Binge Drinking: A Woman's Health Concern
Many women drink alcohol - whether it's to celebrate a special event or maybe to relax with friends. An occasional drink usually isn't a concern. Moderate amounts of alcohol may even protect against coronary heart disease. More excessive drinking, though - like binge drinking - can lead to serious health problems.
Binge drinking is when you consume four or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion. According to a recent government report, one in eight American women binge drink. What's more, one in five high school girls does, too. In fact, younger women overall - those ages 18 to 24, especially - are more likely to binge drink.
On average, women who binge drink do it more than three times a month. Each time, they swig down an average of six alcoholic beverages. That's well above what health experts advise. National dietary guidelines recommend that women limit their alcohol intake to one drink a day. And if you don't drink, it's best not to start.
Not knowing what is considered one drink may contribute to the binge-drinking problem. It's not about the amount of fluid in your glass. It's the alcohol content that matters. For instance, one 12-ounce beer is equal to one 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor, such as whiskey or bourbon. Beer generally contains about 5 percent alcohol, while whiskey can have up to 40 percent.
Women are more susceptible to the ills of alcohol than men. That's because women, in general, weigh less than men. A smaller body size contains less water to absorb alcohol; women metabolize alcohol slower, and it stays in their system longer. For that reason, binge drinking may be especially harmful for women.
To begin with, excessive amounts of alcohol can weaken the heart muscle. It can lead to an irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and even stroke. Drinking lots of alcohol may also increase your risk for many types of cancer, including those of the mouth, esophagus, breast, and liver.
Excessive alcohol can damage your brain, too. An immediate effect: lack of coordination and slurred speech. Over time, too much alcohol can alter how your brain functions. It can affect your mood and quality of sleep; it can impair learning and memory.
Alcohol abuse can also lead to liver disease, menstrual problems, miscarriage, and infertility. For women who are pregnant, the health risks of heavy drinking can even extend to their unborn child. Overall, studies show that women who binge drink are more likely to have poorer physical and mental health.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.