April is Alcohol Awareness Month. This is an excellent time to have conversations with friends, relatives, and medical professionals about drinking and its impact on our lives. Several problems are specifically related to women and drinking. These are particularly important for us to talk about. These issues include but are not limited to: pregnancy and child-rearing, liver disease, sexual assault, and sexually transmitted infections.

Women must considerer whether they are pregnant or may become so before drinking even one glass of wine and definitely before binging on alcohol. The risks to an unborn child are huge and can affect them throughout their lives. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are 100% preventable by mothers abstaining from alcohol. No amount of drinking is safe during pregnancy. Since many pregnancies are unplanned, drinking at any time when you could get pregnant creates a risk for your unborn child.

Alcohol related liver diseases are higher in women than men. Women are also at an increased risk for heart damage from drinking. Because of differences in fat storage, biochemical processes, metabolism, and other factors, women should expect more medical consequences from their drinking than their male friends.

Here are a few facts to think about:

•Upon drinking equal amounts, women tend to absorb more alcohol when they drink, and take longer to break it down and remove it from their bodies compared to their male counterparts. These differences are caused by differences in body composition and chemistry between men and women. Even when they drink the same amount of alcohol, women tend to have higher levels of alcohol in their blood than men, and the immediate effects of impairment occur more quickly and last longer.

•Alcohol tends to leave the body at a slower rate in women who take birth control pills compared with those who do not. The result can be greater alcohol impairment in women who take birth control pills.

•Binge drinking is a risk factor for sexual assault, especially among young women in college settings. The risk for rape or sexual assault increases when both the perpetrator and victim have used alcohol before the attack.

•Binge drinking increases the risk for breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke, all of which are leading causes of death in women.

•Women who binge drink are more likely to have unprotected sex and multiple sex partners, which can increase their risk of acquiring HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Female drinkers are different in other ways from men. Women with children may often feel reluctant to ask for help with a drinking problem for fear of losing custody of their children or the feeling of shame. Older women between the ages of 55-64 are more likely to drink at home, avoiding public drinking, and therefore are not as visible to friends and the community as other drinkers might be; their problems may go undetected.  Older women are at risk for many health related consequences in part because they tend to drink more than younger women do.

Studies have indicated, “Women with drinking problems tend to use alcohol to self-medicate for emotional trauma, depression and anxiety.”  When used in this way, drinking compounds the problem of the original psychological disorder.

Informing women everywhere about gender specific facts and information on alcohol use is important. Share with others that this is Alcohol Awareness Month and start a conversation that can lead to a healthy and balanced life.