Working to reduce alcohol harm

Women and Alcohol

Irish women are now drinking more, and more often, than previous generations and the impact of this change in drinking patterns has already shown in a number of worrying trends, including a rapid increase in the number of young women presenting with serious alcohol-related conditions such as liver cirrhosis.

Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) rates are increasing rapidly in Ireland and the greatest level of increase is among 15-to-34-year-olds, who historically had the lowest rates of liver disease. Listen to Dr Orla Crosbie, Consultant Gastroenterologist, discuss that issue here.

Dr Crosbie spoke at Alcohol Action Ireland’s conference examining ‘Girls, Women & Alcohol: the changing nature of female alcohol consumption in Ireland’ in 2015. You can view the videos of all the speakers here.

Why are women at increased health risk from alcohol?

  • Women account for a quarter of all alcohol-related hospital discharges, but among those aged 17 and under, the proportion of discharges from hospital is almost half, at 47%.
  • It’s important to remember that while the gap between male and female alcohol consumption is closing, women experience greater health risks from alcohol than men and the onset of alcohol-related health problems begins earlier. Women are more vulnerable to tissue damage, cirrhosis of the liver and alcohol dependence.
  • Women’s bodies process alcohol differently resulting in higher concentrations of alcohol in their blood when drinking equal amounts of alcohol to men. Women tend to have lower body weights, less body water and higher percentages of body fat than men – meaning they don’t process alcohol as efficiently as men.
  • A man who drinks six or more standard drinks a day is 13 times more likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver compared to a non-drinker: a woman needs only four standard drinks a day to increase her risk to the same degree. That’s about a half bottle of wine.

For further information on the health risks associated with alcohol, follow this link.

For women, the recommended low-risk guideline for alcohol consumption is 11 standard drinks (=110 grams or 140 mls of pure alcohol), spread out over the course of a week, with at least two to three alcohol-free days.

For information on alcohol and pregnancy in Ireland, follow this link.

Alcohol consumption and cancer among Irish women
  • 12% of all breast cancers in Ireland are associated with alcohol consumption.
  • Drinking one standard alcoholic drink a day is associated with a 9% increase in the risk of developing breast cancer – while 3-6 drinks a day increases the risk by 41%.
  • Among Irish women, four in ten (40.9%) alcohol-related cancer deaths were due to breast cancer between 2001 and 2010.
  • 4.6% of female cancer deaths in Ireland were attributable to alcohol between 2001 and 2010 – that’s 1,700 women.
  • In Ireland the proportion of alcohol-related deaths from cancer is higher than the European average, at 38.8% for Irish women (versus 31% in Europe).
  • The projected number of new cases of alcohol-related cancers in the Republic of Ireland is expected to double by the year 2020 for women.
  • In European women, the main causes of alcohol related death are cirrhosis (37%) and cancer (31% – with breast cancer alone accounting for 21%).

Dr Triona McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, speaks about alcohol and cancer at Alcohol Action Ireland’s conference, ’Girls, Women and Alcohol: The changing nature of female alcohol consumption in Ireland’.

Dr Triona McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine from Alcohol Action Ireland on Vimeo.

Irish women’s alcohol consumption.

The World Health Organisation’s Global status report on alcohol and health 2014 found that one third of Irish women (33.1%) who drink alcohol had engaged in binge drinking in the previous month.

The Health Research Board’s National Alcohol Diary Survey found that:

  • Half (51.4%) of females started drinking alcohol before the age of 18 years.
  • Over one-fifth (22.8%) of female drinkers, who consumed alcohol in the week prior to the survey, drank more than the HSE’s recommended low-risk weekly drinking guidelines (i.e. more than 11 standard drinks).
  • This measure was highest in the 18 to 24 years age group, with 39% of young women drinking more than the recommended weekly guidelines in the week prior to the survey.
  • One-in-ten (9.1%) women consumed more than the recommended weekly guidelines in a single day in the week prior to the survey.
  • This measure was, once again, highest in the 18 to 24 years age group, with one-in-five (22.5%) young women drinking more than the recommended weekly guidelines in a single day.
  • Wine was the most common type of alcohol consumed by women aged over 25 years (58.9%), and spirits were the most common type of alcohol consumed by young women aged 18 to 24 years (59.9%).
  • The Health Research Board found that one-in-four women (24.1%) experienced harm as a result of their own alcohol use, while 15.6% of women reported experiencing harm as a result of someone else’s alcohol use.

The low-risk weekly recommended guideline for alcohol consumption for women is no more than 11 standard drinks a week, spread out over the course of a week, with at least two to three alcohol-free days.

Dr Orla Crosbie, Consultant Gastroenterologist, speaks at Alcohol Action Ireland’s conference, ’Girls, Women and Alcohol: The changing nature of female alcohol consumption in Ireland’.

Dr Orla Crosbie, Consultant Gastroenterologist from Alcohol Action Ireland on Vimeo.