Category Addiction Recovery

Women and Alcohol: Understanding the Risks and How to Get Help

Drinking too much can be particularly dangerous for women. Recognizing the hidden risks and understanding how alcohol affects women differently is the first step toward managing alcohol use and seeking help.

The Hidden Risks of Drinking

Women are more vulnerable than men to the effects of alcohol, even at lower consumption levels. Heavy drinking increases the risk of health problems such as liver disease, brain damage, and breast cancer. While women are just as likely as men to recover from alcohol dependence, they often face more challenges in accessing help.

Unique Alcohol Risks for Women

Women across various cultures enjoy alcohol for many reasons—celebrating special occasions, feeling more sociable, or unwinding with loved ones. While many women drink responsibly, alcohol poses unique risks for all women. Women are more likely to develop alcohol-related diseases and face the consequences of drinking sooner than men, even with lower consumption levels.

Women often use alcohol to self-medicate for issues like depression, anxiety, and stress. Drinking more than moderate amounts (over seven drinks a week) increases the risk of accidents, injuries, cancer, hypertension, stroke, and suicide. Elevated drinking rates also increase the likelihood of alcohol abuse or dependence.

Health Consequences of Alcohol Abuse in Women

Women who abuse or depend on alcohol face heightened risks compared to men:

  • Liver Disease: Higher likelihood of developing alcoholic liver disease, such as hepatitis, and a greater risk of dying from liver cirrhosis.
  • Brain Damage: Increased risk of alcohol-induced brain damage, including loss of mental function and reduced brain size.
  • Other Health Issues: Increased risk of osteoporosis, falls, fractures, premature menopause, infertility, miscarriages, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Alcohol and Breast Cancer

Alcohol consumption can raise a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Each additional 10 grams of alcohol (about one 4-ounce glass of wine) per day increases the lifetime risk of breast cancer by approximately 10%.

For instance:

  • A woman who drinks no alcohol has a lifetime breast cancer risk of nearly 9 in 100.
  • Two drinks per day increase the risk to just over 10 in 100.
  • Six drinks a day raise the risk to about 13 in 100.

Increasing Alcohol Consumption Among Women

Trends show that more women, particularly white, employed women, are drinking greater amounts of alcohol more frequently. This increase may reflect a growing comfort in discussing drinking habits.

Social Stigmas Are Fading

Historically, women have felt greater shame about drinking and getting drunk than men. However, among younger women, this stigma is fading. Although men are still more likely to drink and binge drink, women are drinking more than they did in the past. This trend is concerning, given that binge drinking increases health risks and the likelihood of unwanted sexual activity.

Risky Drinking

A standard drink is defined as:

  • One 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler.
  • One 5-ounce glass of wine.
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

For women, moderate drinking is no more than seven drinks a week and no more than three on any given day. However, individual factors such as weight, health, genetic makeup, and age can affect how much alcohol a woman can safely consume. Drinking even one alcoholic drink per day may increase health risks, especially for older women and pregnant women.

Why Women Are More Sensitive to Alcohol

Several biological factors make women more vulnerable to alcohol’s effects than men:

  • Body Fat: Women have less water and more fatty tissue, which retains alcohol, keeping it in the body longer.
  • Enzymes: Women have lower levels of enzymes that metabolize alcohol, leading to higher absorption in the bloodstream.
  • Hormones: Hormonal changes can affect how women metabolize alcohol.

These factors explain why women become intoxicated more quickly and suffer adverse effects from smaller amounts of alcohol.

Abuse and Alcohol Use

Sexual or physical abuse can predispose individuals to alcohol and drug problems. Women, being more likely victims of childhood sexual abuse, are disproportionately affected. Women who have been abused are more likely to drink, have alcohol-related problems, or become dependent on alcohol.

Alcohol is also a major factor in violence against women, contributing to many rapes and domestic violence incidents.

Drinking During Pregnancy

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause birth defects and is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation in the U.S. Alcohol passes through the placenta to the fetus, where it breaks down slowly, causing prolonged high blood alcohol levels.

Any amount of alcohol can harm a developing fetus, particularly during the first and second trimesters. Therefore, women are advised to avoid alcohol entirely during pregnancy.

Risks to Offspring Include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Facial abnormalities
  • Problems with eating, sleeping, and learning
  • Behavioral issues
  • Special education and medical care needs

Overcoming Barriers to Help

Women are less likely to seek specific help for alcohol problems. They are more inclined to consult primary care practitioners or mental health counselors instead of entering alcohol treatment programs.

Barriers to Help Include:

  • Childcare Access: Women need suitable childcare services to undergo treatment and may fear losing custody of their children.
  • Economic Challenges: Women often face economic barriers, such as lower-paying jobs with limited flexibility.
  • Mental Health Disorders: Women are more likely to suffer from mood, anxiety, and eating disorders that may need simultaneous treatment with alcohol issues.
  • Need for Women-Only Programs: Some women benefit more from women-only programs, especially those who have suffered abuse.

Women and Men Are Equally Capable of Recovery

Women are just as capable of recovering from substance abuse as men. While women face unique challenges, they can achieve recovery with the right support and treatment.

Understanding the unique risks women face with alcohol consumption and the importance of seeking help can guide women and their families in managing alcohol use effectively.

7 Common Challenges People Face in Addiction Recovery

Completing a drug and alcohol rehab program and re-entering society as a sober individual come with its addiction recovery challenges. Maybe your loved one is in rehab, and you want to understand their struggles in recovery. Or perhaps you’re considering enrolling in a rehab program yourself, but your fears are holding you back.

Understanding some of the common challenges in recovery from addiction may provide clearer insight into long-term addiction recovery. Here are some common personal issues you may face while completing a rehab program and how you can address them.

1. Developing New Coping Strategies

Getting sober isn’t just about not using drugs and alcohol anymore. It’s also about establishing a new lifestyle that supports recovery and prevents relapse. A major part of this process is developing new coping strategies to manage stress and deal with anxiety and cravings. In rehab, as you learn to develop these coping strategies, you are establishing a new sense of normalcy. This is both challenging and time-consuming, but well worth the effort. Counselors and therapists will work with you daily to identify harmful behaviors and learn how to modify them so you can thrive in sobriety.

2. Addressing Trauma and Shame Without Drugs and Alcohol

Many recovering addicts use drugs and alcohol as a crutch to deal with trauma and shame. During drug rehab, people in recovery are challenged to deal with trauma and shame without the aid of these addictive substances. This can be one of the most difficult addiction recovery challenges. It requires a lot of effort, time, and bravery to confront these issues head-on and address the deep-seated issues that have contributed to addiction. In working with counselors and therapists in rehab, you’ll have many opportunities to do this and, as a result, experience rewarding personal growth.

3. Building New Relationships and Repairing Old Ones

According to SAMHSA, having relationships and social networks that provide love, support, friendship, and hope is an essential part of a life in recovery. In rehab, you’ll be challenged to build new relationships with your peers in recovery. You learn how to communicate healthily, trust others, and be vulnerable. While working through recovery, you’ll also be asked to make amends with loved ones you hurt while actively abusing drugs and alcohol. The amendment process can take weeks, months, or years, and it’s never easy. However, it plays an important role in freeing you from your old life of addiction and embracing long-term recovery.

4. Boredom

During your treatment program, you’ll likely follow a structured daily schedule of support group meetings, exercise, meals, personal reflection, and leisure time. After you complete rehab and return home, you may find yourself dealing with boredom. This is one of the most common addiction recovery challenges and can be a big threat to your sobriety. Previously, all your free time was most likely spent using drugs and alcohol. Now, without those substances in your life, you’ll need to learn how to use your time in other ways. These activities may include meditating, reading, playing sports, working, or taking up a new hobby. Enrolling in a sober living program after completing your rehab program can provide a structure that helps you create a new lifestyle in recovery. It can help fill your free time with group activities, volunteer work, job hunting, and other essential life activities.

5. Relapse

Relapse prevention is one of the biggest challenges in recovery from addiction many people face both during and after rehab. Cravings, stress, anxiety, and old acquaintances can all be potential threats when you’re trying to stay sober. Fortunately, rehab is designed to help you with this. It helps establish life skills, modify unhealthy behaviors, and develop a peer support system that will keep you firmly rooted in your sobriety. Even if you do have a relapse during or after rehab, you’ll be able to lean on your support system of peers and mentors who will help you get back on track quickly. No one is perfect, and sometimes it just takes time. You won’t fail if you don’t give up!

6. Finding Your Purpose

After drug and alcohol rehab, many people find that they lack purpose in life. Adapting to a life that doesn’t revolve around drug and alcohol abuse can be one of the most difficult addiction recovery challenges. One way that rehab helps recovering addicts combat this issue is by introducing them to new hobbies and interests such as yoga, art, music, and meditation. These activities help clients find and develop new hobbies, interests, and social groups both during and after rehab.

7. Transitioning Out of Rehab and Back Home

Making the transition from a life of addiction into an independent life of sobriety after rehab isn’t easy for recovering addicts. After you leave the safety net of a rehab center, you’ll be awarded more personal freedoms. However, you’ll also need to manage more responsibilities at home, find a job, fulfill financial obligations, put your new coping strategies into action, and much more. For many people in recovery, this transition can be extremely challenging, and it may be tempting to give up and use again.

Overcoming Addiction Recovery Challenges: Your Path to Long-Term Sobriety

If you’re facing struggles in recovery and trying to adapt to your new sober life after rehab, enrolling in a transitional living program is a great way to continue your addiction treatment and maintain your sobriety. Sober living homes provide structure, accountability, peer support, employment and education assistance, and a sense of camaraderie to help you maintain your sobriety and flourish in your new lifestyle.

Additional Support Strategies for Families

Educate Yourself

As a family member, educating yourself about addiction and the recovery process is crucial. Understanding the challenges your loved one faces can help you provide better support and empathy. Attend family therapy sessions and support groups designed for families of addicts to gain insights and coping strategies.

Create a Supportive Environment

Ensure that the home environment is supportive of your loved one’s recovery. This might involve removing any triggers or substances from the home, setting clear boundaries, and maintaining open communication. Encourage healthy habits and activities that promote sobriety.

Encourage Continued Treatment

Recovery is a long-term process, and continued treatment is often necessary. Encourage your loved one to attend support groups, therapy sessions, and follow-up appointments. Be supportive of their ongoing commitment to sobriety and celebrate their milestones.

Be Patient and Compassionate

Recovery can be a slow and challenging journey. Be patient and compassionate with your loved one as they navigate their path to sobriety. Recognize that there will be ups and downs and that setbacks are part of the process. Offer encouragement and avoid judgment or blame.

Take Care of Yourself

Supporting a loved one in recovery can be emotionally taxing. Ensure you are also taking care of your own physical and mental health. Seek support from friends, family, or professional counselors to help you cope with the stress and emotions involved in this journey.


Addiction recovery isn’t just a walk in the park. It comes with its difficulties, but having a thorough, experienced, and compassionate team of addiction treatment experts on your side makes all the difference in your recovery struggles. By understanding the common challenges in addiction recovery and implementing effective strategies to address them, you can support your loved one on their journey to long-term sobriety and build a healthier, happier future together.