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Why Are More Women Dying From Alcohol Use?

More women are dying from drinking alcohol, according to a recent NIH study.
Posted at 1:01 PM, Feb 18, 2020

More women are dying from drinking alcohol, according to a recent NIH study. The research looked at death certificates from 1999 to 2017. It found 73,000 Americans died from alcohol-related illnesses in 2017, up from about 36,000 deaths in 1999.

 In 2017, Lisa Peretti entered rehab for alcohol use disorder for a second time. The mother of three said she didn’t want to become a statistic. 

"I've had different doctors tell me 'your liver is a lot more sensitive than men. And even being an alcoholic genetically, your liver processes it differently,'" she told Newsy.

The largest increase in alcohol-related deaths, the NIH study found, was among white women. There was also a 10.1% increase in the prevalence of drinking and a 23.3% increase in binge drinking among women. Drinking like this can cause a lot of damage, quickly.

"They're at more risk for liver damage and heart damage," said Christian Hopfer, Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Director of the Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation at University of Colorado Hospital. "It could be surprising because sometimes men can drink for 10 or 20 years before they start getting organ damage. But for some women, even after six months or a year of heavy drinking, they can be surprised that they already have pretty major organ damage."

Hopfer says women's blood alcohol concentration is generally higher than men's because they typically weigh less and have lower body water percentages. There’s a psychological component, too, he says. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, which is a huge risk factor for alcohol use disorder. 

Peretti adds, as a woman, there’s more societal pressure, which led her to have anxiety.

"I was more isolated because I wasn't working. I was a stay at home mom and I also was in my thirties and I was very idealistic and wanted to have a certain image. And I think the other big piece of it was trying to be all things to all people. And, you know, I think as a woman, I was conditioned to be a nurturer and to take care of everyone," she said.

Both Peretti and Dr. Hopfer said another component — the accessibility and acceptability of alcohol and drinking — makes for an environment that is much harder for an addiction patient in recovery.  

"As a society, we do use it as a coping skill. And for those of us who respond differently to alcohol and can't necessarily moderate, that's very scary," Peretti said.