Britons have a very different relationship with alcohol than the rest of Europe. In Italy, they may sip a glass of red wine with a meal; in Britain we knock back our fifth pint with a bag of pork scratchings. In France, it is generally frowned upon for a woman to drink as much as a man; in Britain, she will be revered as a good-time girl who can hold her drink. It’s simply an indication of increasing equality at work and play. An increase in earnings over the last 30 years, plus a later marrying age, mean we have less financial responsibilities and more choice on what to spend our money on. But keeping up with the boys has greater consequences for women – not only does it make us socially vulnerable, it has greater effects on our short and long-term health.
For example, the smaller the person, the more alcohol is likely to affect them. Because women tend to be smaller than men, it takes less alcohol for a woman to get drunk. Also, a woman’s body contains less water and more fatty tissue – which increases alcohol absorption compared to a male body.
Not seeing the downside so far? Understandable. If fewer drinks are needed to get drunk, that means more cash in your purse by closing time. But the greater the effect on sobriety, the greater the effect on your health. Alcohol is high in calories and can reduce the effectiveness of your metabolism, leading to excessive weight gain. So an evening in the pub after work can equate to an extra meal, setting you back an hour on the treadmill.
Drinking to excess also increases a woman’s likelihood of unplanned and unsafe sex, or sexual assault. Because you have less control of your actions, you are less able to defend yourself should an assault occur. Around 50% of rape victims had been under the influence of alcohol, as were over 50% of men convicted of an attack. Because the memory is usually impaired after binge drinking, incidences that involve alcohol are much harder to prove in court.
For better or worse, the days of women modestly sipping a Babycham are well and truly over. But with more economic and social freedom to drink, so comes more responsibility. Be careful with regular heavy drinking – particularly if you are driving, or travelling home alone. Be aware of how much you’ve had, and your personal limit. A bit of booze-wisdom now will pay dividends on your long-term health.
Women and drinking: the facts
- Women who have multiple roles (ie – mother, wife, employee) are less likely to develop a drinking habit. Women who have recently lost one of their roles – for example, through bereavement or redundancy – have an increased rate of alcoholism.
- Painful menstruation, heavy flow, discomfort and irregular cycles can be attributed to excessive drinking. Other adverse effects include early menopause and fertility problems.
- Alcohol abuse can affect the heart and lungs – interfering with cardio-respiratory fitness.
- It can also damage the immune system – making you more susceptible to infection, and increasing recovery times for injuries.
- Binge drinkers are more likely to develop heart disease and hardening of the arteries than moderate drinkers.
If you’re concerned about alcoholism and would like advice for you or someone you know, visit these websites: