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Gender Patterns of Alcoholism

Excessive consumption of alcohol is a problem in virtually every nation on earth, though in recent years the rate of consumption has decreased appreciably in the US. Numerous studies conducted in recent years have shown that overall consumption continues to decline, perhaps due to increased awareness of the negative health impact of drinking combined with a decline in the cultural acceptability of drunkenness.

Unfortunately, while the news is good for the population as a whole the data also show that 10% of drinkers are responsible for over 50% of the total alcohol consumed. While more people than ever are reducing their consumption or abstaining entirely, the rate of problem drinkers has remained steady in recent years.

At Risk Groups

While alcoholism is a disease most commonly suffered by members of disadvantaged socioeconomic groups, across the board there is a bias towards males. Throughout society at all socioeconomic levels it is men who consume more alcohol than women. Men drink more regularly than women, consume greater volumes and more often fall victim to alcoholism.

According to a US study approximately 63% of men consume alcohol at least once a month, compared to 24% of women, and men are twice as likely as women to binge drink. Men average 12.5 episodes of binge drinking during each calendar year, while women average only 2.7 episodes.

In all, 17% of men in the US will at some point in their lives meet the criteria to be diagnosed with alcohol dependence, compared to 8% of women.

Gender Differences

However, the statistics provided by studies of alcohol consumption patterns and gender differences do not take into account the differences in the way men and women metabolize alcohol. While men are more at risk of developing problems with excessive consumption, women may be at risk while drinking smaller amounts.

On average women have lower body weight than men, and as such women can become intoxicated much more quickly than men while drinking at the same pace. Women also retain less water in their bodies than men, and since alcohol disperses in water even women sharing the same body weight as a man drinking the same amount of alcohol may become intoxicated more quickly.

Female Risk Factors

Women who drink to excess leave themselves open to a number of health risks. Though they may drink less than men, women are more susceptible to liver damage when they drink excessively. Alcoholic hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that can lead to cirrhosis, is more prevalent in women than men. Women also suffer from a greater incidence of alcohol related heart disease than men.

Male Risk Factors

While men who drink to excess are also susceptible to a wide range of medical problems ranging from an increased risk of certain cancers to sexual dysfunction, impotence and infertility, the most visible risk factors of men who suffer from alcohol dependence are related to risk taking behavior.

Men suffer higher rates of deaths and hospitalizations as a result of excessive alcohol consumption than women. Statistics of fatal road traffic accidents show that male drivers are twice as likely as women to have a blood alcohol volume of 0.08% or more, and men are at a greater risk of suicide or attempted suicide as a result of excessive alcohol consumption than men.

Identifying Alcoholism

Whether you're male or female, if you feel that you may have a problem you should be on the alert for warning signs that may indicate you drink too much.

1. Increased Tolerance

The body eventually adjusts to regular alcohol consumption, and if you drink regularly you may notice that you need to drink more to achieve a certain level of inebriation than you did in the past. If you regularly increase the amount you drink during a session you may have a problem.

2. Withdrawal Symptoms

If you have developed a dependence on alcohol you may experience symptoms of withdrawal when you refrain from drinking. These include sweating, nausea, irritability and anxiety.

3. Shifting Priorities

Problem drinkers often find themselves structuring their lives around their drinking. If you find yourself cancelling plans, breaking your usual routine or ignoring activities that you used to enjoy in favor of drinking it may be a sign that you have become dependent.

4. Relationship Problems

Heavy drinking often causes a strain in friendships and romantic relationships. If you notice that your relationships are suffering due to your drinking you should speak to a professional to help reduce your consumption.

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