Deadly Consequences of Heavy Drinking Were Greater for Women

Death risk from high alcohol intake was greater in women than in men

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many people like to relax after work with a drink or two. But for women, having a few too many can be a dangerous thing.

Women were more likely to die from alcohol consumption than men, researchers reported in a new analysis that looked at several other studies.

The more alcohol a woman drank, the greater her risk for death, these researchers found.

"Tell your doctor if you have trouble controlling how much alcohol you drink."

About 4 percent of all deaths in the world are due to alcohol, noted the authors of this new study, led by Chao Wang, PhD, of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, China.

But while men are known to be big consumers of alcohol, women appeared to be more likely to die from drinking, the researchers found.

These researchers conducted an online analysis of studies on alcohol consumption and death, using Embase, PubMed and Cochrane Library Databases. They used data from 24 studies, including 2,424,964 participants, of which 123,878 died. The studies followed the participants for anywhere from four to 23 years. All participants were 18 years of age or older.

The researchers found that females had a 7 percent greater risk for all-cause mortality (death) caused by drinking than men, and this was particularly true for women who drank heavily.

When men and women drank alcohol in lesser amounts, their risk for death from alcohol was similar. However, when they drank more heavily, women were more at risk.

The researchers compared heavy alcohol consumption of 75 grams per day, 90 grams per day and 100 grams per day. Women had a greater risk of death than men for all these amounts. Compared to men, women had more than twice the risk of dying when they consumed 100 grams per day.

Different countries define standard drinks in different ways, but in the United States, a typical drink usually contains about 14 grams of alcohol.

The study's authors suggested that there are inherent biological differences that make drinking alcohol riskier for women than men. For example, women have a lower body water content, so alcohol is less diluted when they drink. Women also have lower alcohol dehydrogenase activity (the enzyme that breaks down alcohol).

According to the study's authors, “The present study suggested that female drinkers, particularly heavy drinkers, should moderate or completely reduce their level of consumption to have a health benefit."

These authors also wrote, "In order to reduce excessive alcohol consumption for women, some effective interventions are needed. Supportive counseling and educational sessions have contributed to help women reduce their alcohol consumption. It should be recommended and emphasized in public policy to provide psychological and educational intervention programs to female heavy drinkers.”

This study was published online ahead of print on March 10 in the Journal of Women’s Health.

This work was supported by grants from the National Science and Technology Pillar Program from the Ministry of Science and Technology, China.

The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 10, 2014
Last Updated:
March 10, 2015