It’s the holidays — enter: gift exchanges, company parties, and family dinners. Along with holiday cheer, something that is often featured at these festivities? Alcohol.
It’s said that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, alcohol consumption rises (with some people drinking as much as double as usual). In our recent poll, the majority of CHSwellness readers said they drink an average of 4-7 alcoholic beverages per week during the holidays (a “moderate” level). The next most popular answers were “12+" and “0.”
While everyone should enjoy themselves during this season however they’d like — cheers to cocktails, mocktails, or a combo of both — Roper St. Francis Healthcare’s Addiction Medicine Specialist, Dr. Samuel Parish, has some info for revelers to be armed with before they overimbibe (including alarming statistics about rising health issues due to alcohol use, most significantly in women).
A recent study showed that alcohol-related deaths among women are rising at a faster rate than those among men. Additionally, researchers have seen a 240% increase in alcohol-induced liver disease among women, compared to a 90% increase for men, since the early 1990s.
During that same period, statistics showed the ratio of men to women who misuse alcohol to be 5-to-1, meaning there were five men for every one woman who abused alcohol. Today, the ratio is closer to 2-to-1.
Beginning with biology
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests different definitions of “heavy drinking” for men vs. women:
- For men: 5+ drinks/day or 15+ drinks/week
- For women: 4+ drinks/day or 8+ drinks/week
Though the guidelines may seem unfair, they’re rooted in biologic factors such as body fat, hormones, and body water composition.
“Women have higher body fat, lower total body water, and lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme involved in metabolizing alcohol, which leads to higher blood alcohol concentrations,” explains Dr. Parish. And that’s not all. Hormonal fluctuations, particularly estrogen, can affect alcohol metabolism and sensitivity, making women more susceptible to the effects of alcohol at different times in their menstrual cycle.
The ‘telescoping’ phenomenon
Considering the biological factors alongside the evolving trends of women’s drinking, Dr. Parish says women must be vigilant and understand their risk factors.
“Women escalate from alcohol use to abuse more rapidly [than men],” says Dr. Parish. “This is called telescoping, and rapid progression can happen at a younger age in women.” (Think of it as though you’re skipping steps as you run up the stairs.)
Understanding and assessing your habits
Dr. Parish acknowledges that the vast majority of people who drink alcohol do not have an alcohol problem. However, he recommends a tool called the CAGE questionnaire to ask yourself:
- C for “Cut down:" Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
- A for “Annoyed:" Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- G for “Guilty:" Have you ever felt guilty about drinking?
- E for “Eye-opener:" Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?
If these questions resonate with you, Dr. Parish advises reaching out to your primary care doctor. Acknowledging that you might need help is not a sign of weakness but rather one of strength and self-awareness. Your health, both physical and emotional, is invaluable, and taking care of it is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Need a doctor referral? Call 843-402-CARE.