I tweeted last week about the latest research showing that after marriage men tend to drink less but women drink more – and there are probably some women who would say “do you wonder?”
In a recent Times’ Body & Soul section John Naish gave a really good overview about women and alcohol consumption which was also a reminder of how stingy recommended allowances are.
A standard 175ml glass of wine = 2 units. So one glass of wine each day of the week is the UK government’s recommended upper limit for women.
And it’s a class thing but not what you might think. The more middle class or the better educated you are the more you are likely to drink. Graduates are twice as likely to drink every day compared to non – graduates, too much practice on cheap booze in the student bars perhaps?
And according to official statistics 1 in 6 professional women drink more than 6 units at least once a week. That’s three glasses of wine in one session which is the NHS definition of binge drinking!
Experts say it’s probably because better educated women have wider social circles or are more likely to work in male-dominated environments. And that’s part of the problem. Women can’t tolerate alcohol in the same way as men. Not only do they have lower body weight and less water in their bodies but their livers don’t deal with alcohol as efficiently as mens’.
A major US study of over 100,000 women over 20 years showed that women who drink 2 glasses of wine a day have 50% more chance of developing breast cancer, probably because alcohol raises levels of oestrogen which can trigger tumour growth.
Women who drink more than recommended are also more vulnerable than men to developing a whole range of cancers. Perhaps slightly less seriously excess alcohol consumption is also linked to fatigue, weight gain, and depression.
Drinking in excess in middle age is linked with increased risk of dementia and memory loss even for people who were abstinent earlier in their lives.
Women in their 30s and 40s are also more likely to be prosecuted for drink-driving than men, according to research at Nottingham University. Naish’s article said it wasn’t because they are more reckless but because they drive over the limit when picking up stranded children who need a lift home. So no good deed goes unpunished.
However a report on the same research published in Clinical Psychology Review last May said the profile of women drink-driving offenders was; ” divorced, widowed or separated with fewer previous convictions than their male counterparts. … they may be distressed by their situation and turning to drink”.
But giving these women rehabilitation programmes designed to shame them, such as meeting bereaved families, doesn’t work with middle-aged women because the negative emotions induced will increase emotional distress which could lead to more drinking and their committing more alcohol-related offences – as these researchers found had happened in the USA.
So women should stick to 1 glass a day and not be tempted to finish the bottle. Wine boxes help in that regard as you don’t feel the same need to finish the box!
And there is some good news if you can stick to that level of drinking.
A range of research studies show that women who drink no more than a glass and a half a day are less likely than teetotallers to get rheumatoid arthritis; they are also less likely to develop a stroke than those who stop drinking, and less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.
Harvard School of Public Health found that women who drink moderately in middle age are more likely than non-drinkers to be in good physical and mental health in their retirement.