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(Family Features) It's just a few drinks with dinner, or some wine to unwind at the end of the day - that's not a problem, right? For some women, it's not. But it's estimated that 5.3 million women in the U.S. drink in a way that threatens their health, safety and general well-being. It's a significant women's health issue that more people need to be made aware of.
Women and Alcohol
When it comes to how the body responds to alcohol, men and women are decidedly different. Women are at greater risk for developing alcohol-related problems, and some of that is due to simple biology.
When alcohol passes through the digestive tract, it gets dispersed in your body's water. The more water available, the more diluted the alcohol gets. Alcohol also gets stored in body fat. Pound for pound, women have less water and more body fat than men do. So even with equal consumption, women's brains and other organs are exposed to more alcohol and more of the toxic byproducts formed when the body breaks down and eliminates alcohol.
This means that women get intoxicated faster than men do. Women also develop alcohol-abuse problems, as well as alcohol-related physical health problems, at lower doses and in less time than men.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) says that women who develop alcoholism have death rates nearly 75 percent higher than male alcoholics. Death from alcohol-related accidents, heart disease, stroke, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide happens more frequently in women.
Barriers to Getting Help
Even with such high risk factors and such dire consequences, fewer women than men are in alcohol treatment programs. While 75 percent of alcohol clients in U.S. treatment centers are men, only 25 percent are women, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Prevention (NIAAA).
"Women face some significant barriers to getting treatment," said Molly O'Neill, president and CEO of First Call, (www.firstcallkc.org) an affiliate of NCADD based in Kansas City. "Lack of child care and limited financial resources are two of the biggest practical issues women face. They have a harder time paying for treatment costs and the child care they need in order to attend. And as the primary family caregivers, women have added responsibilities that make it harder to participate in regular treatment sessions."
The stigma of alcoholism is a unique barrier to women seeking help. "There are different social expectations for women," said O'Neill. "Women with substance abuse problems are treated much more harshly than men. If a drunk-driving accident is caused by a man, it's seen as unfortunate. But if it's caused by a woman, particularly a mom, people tend to think, 'How could she do that? She's a mother!' One way we can help these women is to make sure people understand that alcoholism is not a character failing - it's an addictive disease that can be treated."
The good news is that once in recovery, women are more likely to stick with it. There are plenty of opportunities available through organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and the NCADD, which offer programs in most cities across the country. And many women take their first steps toward recovery by talking with their healthcare providers.
Addiction to alcohol doesn't just affect the user - it affects their families, significant others and friends. "Children of alcoholics have greater physical, emotional and behavioral problems than children of non-alcoholics, said O'Neill, "and they're three to four times more likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs themselves. That's why at First Call we offer programs for family members and friends impacted by a loved one's abuse, in addition to help for the one who is addicted."
To make getting access to help easier, and to help other human services agencies manage client care, First Call developed Community CareLink. This online program helps people connect with substance abuse professionals in a safe, secure way, and helps them stay on track with treatment plan goals and get the help they need. "We've found that women and children have trouble getting coordinated care," said O'Neill. "Community CareLink helps facilitate referrals and evaluations, and it gives people access to care they might not otherwise receive. We're very excited to share this program with agencies all across the country." (Learn more about Community CareLink at www.mobileccl.org.)
Alcohol addiction is a serious health issue, particularly for women. If you even suspect a problem, don't wait to reach out. There is hope, help and healing for you and the women you love.
Ask yourself ...
Answering yes to these types of questions can indicate you have a problem with alcohol.
What is a drink?
Do you really know how much you're drinking? You may think you only have a little wine with dinner, but you could be drinking more than what is recommended. Here is how the NIAAA defines "a drink":
Where to Get Help