Women are at more risk of harm from alcohol than men

A woman’s body handles alcohol differently to a man’s. Women tend to have lower body weights, less body water and higher percentages of body fat than men. Women’s bodies process alcohol differently, resulting in higher concentrations of alcohol in their blood when drinking the same amounts of alcohol to men. Women are more vulnerable to tissue damage, cirrhosis of the liver and alcohol dependence.

Reducing the risk

Women are advised to drink no more than 11 standard drinks a week, and no more than two standard drinks a day, if they want to keep their risk of developing alcohol-related health problems low. It is also important to have at least two days a week free from alcohol.

The low-risk guidelines apply to healthy, adult women in the 18-65 age range. They do not apply to all women. If you are a younger or older woman, you will need to drink less to stay within the low-risk range. And there are times women are advised not to drink at all – for example, if on particular kinds of medication, when pregnant or breastfeeding, and if experiencing particular kinds of physical or mental health problems.

Keeping an eye on your drinking is important if you want to keep health risks to a minimum. Knowing how much you drink will allow you to see if you’re within the recommended low risk weekly limit. And you don’t need to have a drink problem to benefit from drinking less. Reducing your alcohol intake has many advantages including

  • Increased energy
  • Better sleep
  • Less weight gain
  • Increased stability in mood

What is a standard drink?

A standard drink contains about 10g of pure alcohol.

One standard drink is:

  • A half pint of lager
  • A single measure of spirits
  • A small glass of wine (around 100mls)
  • A bottle of any alcopop
  • A bottle of wine contains about 8 standard drinks

Remember it’s difficult to pour a standard drink at home without the guide of pub measures.

How do I know if my drinking could be damaging my health?

This short test, designed by the World Health Organisation, will help you to find out whether your drinking could be harmful. When you have answered all the questions, click on the “Complete Test” button at the end to get your score and feedback.

If you regularly drink heavily, think you might be dependent on alcohol or are concerned about your drinking, you might like to seek support. Your GP will be able to guide you through the help available to find something that suits you.

Alcohol and your body

Drinking alcohol puts women at increased risk of developing more than 60 diseases and conditions some of which are caused by alcohol, while alcohol is a contributory factor in others. These include:

  • Cancer of the mouth, tongue and throat
  • Breast cancer
  • Oesophageal cancer
  • Laryngeal cancers
  • Acute pancreatitis
  • Cardiovascular diseases including stroke and coronary heart disease
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Liver cancer

You may be surprised to learn that most drink-related deaths and diseases actually occur among drinkers who are not dependent on alcohol.

It’s not just physical health that can be negatively affected by the way we drink. Drinking above low-risk weekly limits also increases the risk of damage to mental health, of having an accident or injury, as well as doing damage to relationships with friends and family

Accidents and injuries

Being drunk can contribute to getting into risky situations that would be avoided if sober. A recent Irish study found that those who drank over the weekly limit were three times more likely to be involved in a fight or accident than others. One in four admissions to Accident and Emergency Departments are alcohol-related.

Alcohol & mental health

We often use alcohol to change a mood or mental state, to cope with situations we might find stressful or worrying, or to relax or unwind after a hectic day. Although in the short term a drink might seem like a good idea, drinking can increase depression and anxiety soon after use, leaving a person feeling low and unable to cope.

There are more effective and healthier ways to cope with life’s stresses. Eating well, exercising and finding enjoyable ways to relax and to cope are very important. And don’t forget to talk to someone you trust about your worries and concerns.

Alcohol & pregnancy

There is no known safe level of alcohol during pregnancy and for this reason, avoiding alcohol completely is the safest choice. The Irish Chief Medical Officer advises that “it is in the child’s best interest for a pregnant woman not to drink alcohol during pregnancy”. Exposure to alcohol while in the womb puts the unborn child at risk of developing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs), which can include physical, mental, behavioural and/or learning effects with possible lifelong implications.

More information on is available from your GP/Maternity Hospital and at the following links:

  • FASD Ireland at www.fasd.ie was set up by a group of carers and professionals in Ireland who have had contact with children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
  • Spun Out at www.spunout.ie in the Young Parents & Pregnancy Section. Spun Out is an independent, youth powered national charity working to empower young people to create personal and social change

Alcohol and Breast Cancer

Drinking one standard alcoholic drink a day is associated with a 9% increase in the risk of developing breast cancer, while drinking 3-6  standard drinks a day increases the risk by 41%. Alcohol is one of a number of risk factors for breast cancer but it is an entirely avoidable one.

For more information about alcohol and cancer, please visit your GP and/or these sites:

Action Breast Cancer www.cancer.ie/action/ is a programme of the Irish Cancer Society, Ireland’s leading provider of breast cancer information and support

National Breast Cancer Research Institute www.nbcri.ie conducts relevant, ethical research into the biology of breast cancer, to determine the cause of this disease and improve the treatment for patients

Breast Check www.breastcheck.ie is a Government funded programme providing breast screening and invites women aged 50 to 64 for a free mammogram on an area-by-area basis every two years

Europa Donna Ireland www.europadonnaireland.ie Europa Donna Ireland is a volunteer run organisation whose membership is largely made up of people with experience of breast cancer and it is a registered charity. Ireland is one of 43 Europa Donna member countries across Europe

For more information about alcohol and your health, please visit the following sites:

National Office for Suicide Prevention’s new site at www.letsomeoneknow.ie is a youth mental health service

Head Strong www.headstrong.ie is a national organisation working with communities to ensure that young people are better supported to achieve mental health and well being

Mental Health Ireland www.mentalhealthireland.ie is a national voluntary organisation which aims to promote mental health and support persons with a mental illness

www.yourmentalhealth.ie aims to improve awareness and understanding of mental health in Ireland

Heads Up www.headsup.ie is an automated 24hr text service set up to show young people where to get help

The Samaritans www.samaritans.ie aims to improve people’s emotional health in order to create a greater sense of well being. They provide support with a 24-hour telephone line, by email, by letter or face to face, and also through work in the local community

Aware www.aware.ie is the national voluntary organisation providing support through depression

HSE Health Promotion Unit www.yourdrinking.ie is the HSE’s information website aimed at raising awareness of alcohol related problems

Marriage and Relationship Counselling Services www.mrcs.ie is one of Ireland’s leading counselling agencies providing services to those with problems in their personal relationships