Contrary to common belief, men and women of the same height and weight do not experience the same effects from consuming identical amounts of alcohol. This is important because alcohol is present in our daily lives such as dinner parties, weddings and a variety of cultural events. Consumption of alcohol within moderation is socially acceptable and appropriate. However, if not careful problems can arise on the drive home. Understanding the physiology of women and alcohol can be helpful to avoid problems. Basically, alcohol enters the stomach and small intestine where it enters the bloodstream and is then broken down by enzymes in the liver. On average, it can take an ‘average’ female 1- 2 hours to process the amount of alcohol in one standard drink. Having more than one drink in that time frame will result in an increase of alcohol in the body. Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is a common way to measure a person's level of intoxication by calculating the ratio of alcohol in the blood. A BAC of .10 means one part of alcohol for every 1000 parts of blood. What is critical is that men and women process alcohol very differently -and it is not just body size! First, women naturally have a higher proportion of body fat than men and since fat cannot absorb alcohol, it is concentrated at higher levels in the blood. Second, women have less water in their bodies to dilute the alcohol, which will lead to faster intoxication. Third, women produce less of an enzyme called ‘dehydrogenase’ compared to men, this enzyme is responsible to break down alcohol before it enters the bloodstream. Lastly, woman's hormone levels and medications containing estrogen can slow down the rate at which alcohol is eliminated from the body. As an example, if we take a 160 pound male and a 160 pound female; who have 5 standard drinks over a 3 hour period; the male will have a BAC of .06 and the female a BAC of .09… above the legal limit!
Here are some tips to keep in mind at your next social event where alcohol is served. Eat food while you drink. A full stomach will slow the absorption of alcohol and result in lower peak BAC. Slow down and sip your drinks, and enjoy the full flavor and aroma! Alternate non-alcoholic drinks, having a non-alcoholic drink will also help keep your BAC lower and more allow more time to burn off alcohol. Beware of unfamiliar drinks. Some drinks such as “Long Island” and other fruit drinks can contain a surprisingly high amount of alcohol. Lastly, it is always best never to use alcohol while taking any pharmaceuticals. When in doubt ask your physician or pharmacist about any precautions or limitations taking medicine and using alcohol. The good news is that, some research has shown that alcohol in moderation is not fattening and may even lead to slight weight loss!