Women and Alcohol: How Much Is Too Much?
Recent clinical studies show an alarming increase in excessive alcohol use by women. But how much is too much? Alcohol still ranks as the most prevalent substance of choice for people with substance use disorders.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption equals one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. The amount of alcohol in that drink should equal no more than 0.6 fluid ounces (14.0 grams or 1.2 tablespoons). The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) identifies women who regularly exceed the moderate drinking limits include those who engage in binge drinking and heavy alcohol use. NIAAA defines binge drinking as typically occurring “after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men — in about 2 hours.”
For women, the effects of alcohol on the body differ from men due to body chemistry. If a man and woman consume the same amount of alcohol, women will have a higher blood alcohol level. Women absorb more alcohol than men, speeding up and extending the effects of alcohol. According to the Centers for Disease Control, these differences also increase the probability of long-term health problems among women who misuse alcohol.
Are you concerned that you may have a problem with alcohol? Are you an alcoholic or a heavy drinker? The presenting factors differ for women and men. How do you know for sure?
The difference between alcohol use disorder and alcohol misuse is that alcoholics are physically addicted to alcohol. Still, because addiction is a progressive disease, some who drink excessively eventually become alcoholics. Where do you fit in the scale? Only a trained professional can make a true diagnosis, however, there are online assessments that can help you determine whether to seek an official assessment and treatment.
Available at valleyhope.org, the CAGE questionnaire is a widely researched and accepted self-assessment tool. If you answer “Yes” to just two or more of the following questions, you may have a problem with addiction and should seek the help of a professional:
- Have you ever felt you needed to cut down on your drinking or drug use?
- Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking or drug use?
- Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking or drug use?
- Have you ever felt you needed a drink or drugs as an eye-opener in the morning in order to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
If the CAGE score suggests alcohol or drug abuse may be a problem for you, then a full diagnostic assessment should be completed. You can begin the process now at valleyhope.org/admissions/assessment.
In addition, The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCAAD) provides an online self-test with 26 questions intended to help you determine if you or someone you know needs to find out more about alcoholism. The results of the self-test are not intended to constitute a diagnosis of alcoholism and should only be used as a guide to understanding your alcohol use and the potential health issues involved with it. It does not serve as a substitute for a full evaluation by a health professional. The medical and counseling staff at Valley Hope can provide a professional diagnosis and, if a problem is discovered, recommendations for treatment.
A definitive diagnosis of alcohol use disorder requires a medical doctor, but there are clear warning signs. The indications of possible alcohol use disorder include the following:
- Obsessive thoughts about drinking.
- Drinking at inappropriate times or alone.
- Drinking with the intention of getting drunk.
- Becoming defensive when confronted about drinking.
- Difficulty maintaining healthy relationships.
- Drinking more to get the same effect.
- Unsuccessful attempts to stop in the past and/or the development of withdrawal symptoms when not drinking for a period of time.
If you suspect your drinking has become a problem, it is important to get an assessment for detoxification.
Remember, alcoholism is on the more serious end of the withdrawal scale and simple willpower will not be enough to manage the process safely. Alcohol detox programs closely monitor withdrawal symptoms, prescribe medications to mitigate seizure risks and otherwise ensure the detox process is safe and comfortable.
Beyond the usual symptoms, detox from alcohol abuse naturally causes anxiety and without proper care, life-threatening seizures. Because of these risks, it is essential that alcohol users undergo a residential detox program such as Valley Hope, with 24-hour therapeutic care in a safe, caring environment.
Treatment and Recovery
If your professional assessment recommends treatment for alcohol use disorder, remember that recovery is not only possible, but also achievable. More than 25 million Americans with a previous substance use disorder (SUD) such as alcohol use are in remission and living healthy, productive lives. Stepping out of addiction and into quality treatment is necessary to begin your recovery journey. Chronic diseases like SUD, diabetes and cancer do not just disappear without treatment.
For example, Valley Hope offers a continuum of care that helps you through every step of your recovery, including detox, residential and intensive outpatient treatment services, family counseling and continuing care. Our approach is grounded in 12 Step philosophy that encourages you to take responsibility for your recovery and treatment. The Valley Hope experience is unique in its genuine compassionate care style, a method that has helped tens of thousands of people find successful recovery over the last 50 years.
During National Alcohol Awareness Month in April, Valley Hope will focus on issues surrounding women and alcohol. With alcohol misuse rates rising, women face particular challenges and health risks related to excessive drinking. Visit valleyhope.org throughout April to access information and resources related to women and alcohol.
Explore Valley Hope services, or share with those in need of support. Valley Hope’s blog provides extensive resources and information for loved ones, families and the recovery community.
For more information on addiction, treatment and recovery, please visit valleyhope.org or for help 24/7 call (800) 544-5101.
Melissa Kinworthy MS, LASAC, serves as an Outpatient Clinical Director for Valley Hope. Melissa provides leadership and clinical direction for all Valley Hope outpatient facilities. A U.S. Army veteran, she has more than 10 years of clinical experience in substance use disorder treatment including working in Arizona with women with SUD and trauma.