Alcohol use is rising among women of all ages, and even more so during COVID seclusion.
Whether they were in-person or now on Zoom, have you noticed that all women’s gatherings—even children’s birthday parties and fitness events—now include alcohol? The normalizing of everyday alcohol consumption has happened slowly and somewhat sneakily, but it has definitely happened.
If you’ve noticed, and it doesn’t quite sit right with you—or your body—you’re not alone. What does this mean for women’s health?
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA), 1) more women are drinking, 2) they’re drinking at increasing rates, and 3) it’s worrisome because alcohol affects women more profoundly than it does men. For instance, women are more likely to experience hangovers, blacking out, and liver inflammation from excessive alcohol consumption.
So, what defines excessive?
Paul Ratté, ND, of Northwestern Health Sciences University, notes that many of his female patients think that two drinks per day is moderate drinking. “But for women, it’s one drink per day, or seven drinks per week. Anything more than that is technically excessive and increases your risk for adverse health effects.”
It gets confusing, notes Dr. Ratté, because moderate alcohol use has been associated with a protective effect on cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cognitive decline. But his concern is that this recommendation justifies excessive drinking behavior.
Also a concern: What kind of data is it?
“I call it sort-of-science,” says Dr. Ratté. “The best data come from a randomized control trial showing cause and effect. That’s not going to happen with drinking alcohol. So what we have are survey data showing a moderate protective effect. Well, we also have survey data showing a negative effect, like an increase in liver disease and breast cancer. Needless to say, I’m not going to recommend that a patient drink (abstain from?) alcohol. But I am going to recommend cutting back.”
“All alcohol impairs liver function, to varying degrees depending on the individual, and can exacerbate digestive and hormonal symptoms as women enter their 40s.” Paul Ratté, ND, of Northwestern Health Sciences University
Also confusing are the mixed messages we all receive about what “normal” drinking is. From Facebook memes celebrating Mommy Juice (a.k.a. wine) to coping-with-pandemic Zoom happy hours, it can feel like daily drinking is the norm and that it’s part of everyone’s fun and healthy lifestyle. But there’s a dark side to the apparent fun—and it comes to the detriment of women.
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The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the FASD Prevention Conversation Project, its stakeholders, or funders.