“Alcohol Neurologically Damages Women More Quickly Than Men, Study Shows “


Alcohol Neurologically Damages Women More Quickly Than Men, Study Shows  DEC. 18, 2011  By Dirk Hanson

  • Alcohol abuse does its neurological damage more quickly in women than in men, new research suggests
  • The finding adds to a growing body of evidence that is prompting researchers to consider whether the time is ripe for single-gender treatment programs for alcohol-dependent women and men.

Over the past few decades scientists have observed a narrowing of the gender gap in alcohol dependence.

  • In the 1980s the ratio of male to female alcohol dependence stood at roughly five males for every female
  • By 2002 the “dependence difference” had dropped to about 2.5 men for every woman. But although the gender gap in dependence may be closing, differences in the ways men and women respond to alcohol are emerging.

alcohol’s ability to reduce serotonin neurotransmission, was “telescoped” in alcoholic women compared with their male counterparts.  In other words, although the alcohol-dependent men and women in the study differed substantially in their mean duration of excessive drinking—four years for the women and 14 years for the men—both sexes showed similar patterns of reduced serotonin activity compared with controls.

results were “consistent with findings of more severe physical consequences of alcohol consumption among women compared to men… women with addictions are more likely to suffer from associated mental health conditions.   Given the link between serotonin and depression, and the links between alcohol dependence and depression, this finding suggests one pathway in which alcohol dependence may lead to depression, and do so more quickly among women.”

Previous work on gender differences in alcohol dependence has shown that:

  • women get drunk on fewer drinks than men owing to a deficit of alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme in the stomach lining that breaks down booze
  • After two beers, women are more likely than men to exceed legal levels of alcohol in the bloodstream
  • Women also develop cirrhosis of the liver more rapidly

…the most important finding in the literature is that it takes longer for women to enter treatment for similar severity of alcohol problems than it does for men.”  In general, women require medical treatment four years earlier than male problem drinkers…  In another study, Greenfield found that women tend to go to primary health care physicians rather than to specialty substance abuse programs for treatment, putting additional pressure on family doctors to diagnose and treat alcohol dependence in women as early as possible.

Sociocultural factors, as well as innate biochemistry, account for many of the problems women face in treatment…. that women are also far more likely to have suffered emotional, physical or sexual trauma, and to have additional parenting and child-care responsibilities.  For these women, “it’s not about substance abuse differences.”   Suicide, depression and anxiety are all more common in women, , and in many cases, those are the gender differences that matter.


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