It’s essential to know the signs of alcoholism in women if you suspect someone you love is in trouble. The problem is more significant than you might think. There are an estimated 15 million alcoholics or alcohol abusers in the US. Women make up about 4.6 million of that number.
Women, who are heavy drinkers, are in greater jeopardy of getting addicted to alcohol. It is important to recognize the symptoms of alcoholism in women because they will often have fewer symptoms of dependency than men. If you or someone you love is addicted to alcohol, please get in touch with Women’s Recovery today at 833.754.0554 to learn about our alcohol addiction treatment program.
What Constitutes Alcoholism in Women?
In the United States, the recommended alcohol consumption for women should not exceed seven drinks per week or no more than an average of a single drink each day. A drink is considered 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol), 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol), or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol).
Alcohol abuse in a woman is defined as consuming more than the recommended amount on a regular basis or drinking in ways that lead to physical and/or emotional consequences. If she continues to abuse alcohol despite the negative consequences, it is then considered alcoholism.
Signs of Alcoholism in Women
1. Drinking More Than Planned
Alcoholics will have a problem with limiting their alcohol consumption. Most women recognize this and will set limits on how much or how long they plan to drink. It’s normal to be able to follow the guidelines you’ve set for yourself. The problem is when you can’t even honor your own decisions. When a woman is an alcoholic, she won’t be able to control herself once she starts drinking.
2. Unable to Cut Down or Control Alcohol Consumption
Most women will try to reduce their drinking when they realize it has gone too far. Once a person becomes addicted to alcohol, she will be unable to limit or control their alcohol use regardless of how much she wants to. Addiction negatively affects the brain by impairing judgment and impulse control. In fact, MRI scans of alcoholics show that an alcoholic’s brain activity at cognitive control regions is different than the activity in normal individuals.
Alcoholics are much more impulsive. The scans also show that alcoholics often struggle with decision-making and higher-order executive cognition functions. They don’t have as much control over these regions of their brain. Their brains are geared toward reward-evaluation regions. In short, alcoholics want their rewards now. They don’t want to wait. They’re not going to delay their decision for a larger prize at a later date. Instead, they’ll take what they can at the moment. These feelings encourage them to drink.
3. A Lot of Time Spent Managing Alcohol
If you’ve ever wondered, “Am I an alcoholic,” one of the first things you should ask yourself is whether you spend a lot of time obsessing over alcohol. Consider whether you waste most of your time:
- Getting alcohol or finding ways to get your hands on it
- Drinking it, regardless of whether it’s alone or with someone else
- Recovering from a hangover and the effects of drinking too much
If you can relate to any of the above, there’s a good chance that you have a problem. It would be difficult not to notice these signs of alcoholism in a woman you’re close to. This vicious cycle will wreak havoc on her life. An addicted woman may spend most of her time managing her problem with alcohol. She will slowly have less and less time for once-pleasurable activities and for those around her. It’s not unusual for many alcoholics to disappear for days at a time because they were drinking. In fact, many women will drink alone. Is drinking alone a sign of alcoholism? It may be if the individual is only focused on that and if it happens often.
4. Cravings to Drink
One of the symptoms of alcoholism is that the addicted individual will experience intense cravings to drink. These urges may make women struggling with alcoholism feel restless. Sure, many people occasionally enjoy a drink, but women with an alcohol problem will feel that they need to drink. If they don’t, they may feel empty, anxious, depressed, hollow, or down. You may notice that someone struggling with an alcohol addiction will make excuses to celebrate every time you’re with them.
Fortunately, there are now many different alcohol addiction treatment plans that help ease cravings. Alcohol detox is particularly helpful and essential to sobriety. Medication-assisted treatment rebalances neurochemical levels in the brain. This makes it easier for alcoholics to stop thinking about liquor. Alcohol detox programs use many different types of medications. Some of the more popular ones include acamprosate and aripiprazole.
5. Neglecting Responsibilities
The effects of alcoholism will include impaired judgment. Things that once mattered to a woman with an alcohol problem won’t be as important. They may miss out on work, school, or household chores. Women struggling with alcoholism often have difficulty managing their lives because they’re either drunk and under the influence, nursing a hangover, or having to manage withdrawal symptoms from not drinking in the daytime. They may be non-responsive to the needs of those around them. They may also be less affectionate or may seem less pleasant to be around.
This can lead to resentment or cause issues among family and friends. Recovering alcoholics will usually later realize the damage they’ve done to those they love. They may have strained relationships. This is why many alcohol rehab centers offer family programs, family therapy, and counseling.
6. Drinking Regardless of Consequences
When a woman drinks despite the problems it causes in her life, she has a drinking problem. Most of us will stop drinking when it starts to become a problem. This is because the damages outweigh the fun of drinking. When a woman has become an alcoholic, she cannot abstain even when she considers all the problems alcohol has caused in her life. Her drinking becomes out of her control. She may get in trouble with the law and get charged with a DUI. She may lose her job or may ruin her relationships with her family and friends. None of that matters.
Someone who is addicted to alcohol will continue to drink even if everything else in her life goes wrong. They simply cannot stop. This is why they need professional help to get them moving toward a healthier, sober lifestyle.
7. Drinking Regardless of Relationship Problems
Alcoholism affects not only the alcoholic but also those around them as well. Drinking causes many problems for loved ones. Risky behavior and moodiness can create negative situations. It can also cause many issues to escalate out of control. Minor issues can easily become major ones. Someone who is under the influence of alcohol may say or do things that they normally wouldn’t if they were sober.
Those who understand that their drinking is straining their relationships but continue drinking have a drinking problem. This is one of the sure signs of alcoholism in women. While her love for friends, family, and significant others hasn’t changed, she is incapable of putting the bottle down. One of the keys to sobriety is to mend these strained relationships. Those who are serious about their recovery should reach out to family and friends. They need to admit their wrongdoings and try to make amends for them. The key to a successful recovery is to reach out. Alcoholic women need to stop isolating themselves from society. Studies show that social connections and support groups are fundamental to recovery.
8. Drinking in Dangerous Situations
Being under the influence can cause someone to misjudge the danger of a situation. It can cause you to face difficulties involving your memory or your attention. Alcohol can cause a person to engage in riskier behaviors and activities. They may choose to do things that put themselves or those around them in danger. In fact, this is where driving under the influence (DUI) comes into the picture.
Many women will continue getting behind the wheel after drinking or two. For example, if she has to pick up her child from school, she may see being a little bit drunk and driving as a lesser evil than not picking up her child at all. Unfortunately, she may not be able to gauge how drunk she actually is. If you’ve ever found yourself in a dangerous situation because of drinking, you might have a problem with alcohol.
9. Drinking Regardless of Health Issues
Long-term alcohol abuse is harder on a woman’s body than it is on a man’s body. Even if a woman drinks less than a man and for a shorter period of time, the adverse effects of drinking will hit her earlier than they will affect a man. When a woman continues to drink despite experiencing medical or mental health issues like a co-occurring disorder, she likely struggles with an addiction to alcohol. In fact, this is considered a sure sign of alcoholism. This is especially true if drinking is the root cause of health problems.
10. Getting a DUI
Anybody can get a DUI, so it isn’t necessarily an alcoholic trait in women. While not a part of the diagnostic criteria, it is common for alcoholics to run out of luck and get caught drinking and driving. A DUI is a lot more serious than what most people make it out to be. Many long-term consequences follow a DUI. Those who are convicted may face jail time and hefty fines.
Even after paying the fines and fulfilling all legal obligations, the DUI can still follow the convicted individual for some time. A woman with a DUI may have difficulties finding employment. Her auto insurance rates may also skyrocket, as she is seen as a liability on the road. She may even get her driver’s license revoked or suspended, depending on the severity of her charge.
11. Tolerance Builds Up
Much like with other drugs, it’s easy to develop a tolerance to alcohol. Someone who has built up their tolerance will need to drink more and more in order to feel the effects of alcohol. They have a higher risk of experiencing alcohol poisoning. In extreme cases, an overdose can be life-threatening and deadly. If a woman in your life drinks excessively, this is likely a sign that she has built up her alcohol tolerance. Tolerance is also an indication of alcoholism.
12. Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms start to kick in once the alcohol has left the body. When a woman drinks excessively, her body will adapt to having a certain amount of alcohol in the body. When there’s no more alcohol in her system, painful side effects will begin to kick in. This is due to a neurochemical imbalance in the brain. These side effects are also known as withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the degree of the alcohol abuse and the severity of the addiction, the symptoms can actually be life-threatening. Some of the telltale withdrawal symptoms of alcohol abuse include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shakiness and weakness
- Cold sweats
- Inability to sleep
- Seizures or delirium tremens
In extreme cases, the withdrawal symptoms can also lead to coma or death. It’s no laughing matter. Delirium tremens is particularly deadly. It happens in 5% of all withdrawal cases. Those who don’t receive treatment for these withdrawal symptoms may die. It’s important to note that the severity of the withdrawal symptoms will differ from one woman to another. It all depends on the length of the alcohol abuse, the amount that was consumed, and other factors.
The intensity of the withdrawal symptoms is the main reason many recovering alcoholics relapse. In fact, relapse is surprisingly common among recovering addicts. Most people will need to go through several relapses before they are able to shake off an alcohol addiction for good. To ease withdrawal symptoms, patients go through alcohol detox. In general, the detox process lasts about seven days. The physical symptoms will usually subside by then. It’s the psychological symptoms that take the longest to disappear. These symptoms can emerge from nowhere up to several years after someone stops drinking.
13. Drinking Alcohol in the Morning
Some women drink in the morning, claiming that it provides relief from a hangover. They may feel shaky or unstable if they don’t drink an alcoholic beverage. The reality is that these physical symptoms are not symptoms of a hangover. They are actually symptoms of having a physical dependence on alcohol. While sleeping, the body metabolizes alcohol, which causes withdrawal symptoms upon waking up.
14. Physical Signs of Liver Damage
Women are more prone to liver damage. Alcoholism in women often leads to inflammation of the liver, which is also known as alcoholic hepatitis. Women who struggle with alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are also more likely to die from cirrhosis than men in the same situation. When estrogen and alcohol are combined, it causes a greater risk of liver damage. Physical signs of liver damage include yellow skin and eyes (jaundice) and swollen legs and ankles. Other possible symptoms are dark urine, abdominal pain, itchy skin, and chronic fatigue.
15. Difficulties with Menstruation
When women drink heavily, their fertility can be affected. They may not menstruate anymore or may fall into early menopause. This is because alcohol appears to affect a woman’s hormonal cycle. Alcohol will affect each woman differently depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle. Hormonal fluctuations can affect how a woman connects with alcohol. Studies show that women may drink more before their period.
The alcohol may also cause more pronounced mood swings and changes during these times. Another issue with heavy drinking is that it may cause cycle irregularities. Women who drink a lot may have difficulties keeping track of their menstrual cycle. Their cycle may be inconsistent all the time. These women may also be at a higher risk for amenorrhea—an abnormal absence of menstruation. Heavy drinking can also cause anovulation. This phenomenon causes ovulation to occur out of sync with one’s menstrual cycle. Alcohol abuse can have many other effects on one’s menstrual cycle.
16. Alcohol-Induced Brain Damage
Women are also more vulnerable to alcohol-induced brain damage than men. These damages can include brain shrinking, memory loss, or learning difficulties. Many studies often look at alcoholism in men rather than women. As a result, not much is known about how alcohol affects a woman’s brain. There have been studies that indicate alcoholism and its damage progress much more rapidly among women than men. However, these studies have been unable to determine why that is. These studies have also been unable to provide a solution to this problem.
17. Risk of Breast Cancer
Women also have a greater risk of breast cancer if they drink heavily on a regular basis. The Journal of American Medical Association said that women who consume anywhere between 2 to 5 drinks daily are 41% more likely to get breast cancer. Heavy alcohol consumption can also be linked to other cancers, such as cancers of the neck, the head, and the digestive tract.
18. Alcohol-Related Heart Disease
Women are more prone to getting alcohol-related heart diseases than men, even if they consume less alcohol. Chronic drinking is the leading cause of heart disease. This is a huge problem, as 35.3% of deaths among American women yearly are caused by heart diseases. It’s definitely an issue that needs to be addressed. There are many possible reasons why alcohol may have more of an effect on women than men.
For one, studies show that there may be sex differences in alcohol pharmacokinetics. Men may have more efficient metabolisms in breaking down alcohol. Other studies suggest that alcohol’s effect on a woman’s hormonal fluctuations may cause greater harm and damage to their cardiovascular system. Once again, more research is needed in this field. There are still a lot of uncertainties.
19. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
Women who drink during pregnancy put their babies at risk of being born with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). The characteristics of this syndrome include abnormal facial features and learning problems. It can also lead to permanent and severe developmental and learning disabilities. Many babies born with FASDs will need some type of assistance for the rest of their lives. When a mother drinks, the liquor gets passed on to the baby through the umbilical cord. The effects of the alcohol will then interfere with the baby’s development. There is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy. There also isn’t a good time to drink. Those who are pregnant should abstain from all alcoholic beverages.
All alcohol is equally harmful to pregnant mothers. FASDs can come in different severities. It all depends on when the mother drank during the pregnancy and the amount of alcohol consumed. Unfortunately, all FASDs will last a lifetime. There’s no cure for these disorders at all. There are, however, treatment options that can lessen the effects of FASDs. Some of these treatment options include medications, specific parent training, behavior therapy, and education therapy. These babies will need additional care for their entire life. They’ll need extra help even when they’ve reached adulthood.
20. Potential of Dementia
Alcoholism is linked with dementia. Studies show that a large percentage of early-onset dementia cases are triggered by AUDs or alcohol abuse. More than 33% of the early-onset dementia cases researched were directly linked to alcohol. This is surprising, although not unexpected. This relationship and correlation between dementia and alcohol abuse are strongest among women. However, more research is needed to determine the specifics.
Alcohol consumption can cause early-onset dementia because it causes cognitive abnormalities. Alcohol has amnesia-like effects. It prevents the brain from creating new memories. This is why many people ‘black out.’ Alcohol can also reduce short-term memory and target higher-executive cognitive functions. These effects are even more pronounced among those who participate in heavy drinking. Alcohol has neurotoxic effects on the brain. They basically poison and kill your neurons.
21. Anemia, Hypertension, and Malnutrition
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that women who drink develop anemia, hypertension, and malnutrition easier than men do. These health problems usually appear during the later stages of alcoholism in women.
22. Alcoholism Mistaken for Age-Related Conditions
As a woman ages, her body will often have a harder time managing alcohol. These problems can be misdiagnosed as age-related problems. They’re not seen as the effects of heavy drinking. These problems are easily missed. They are, however, life-threatening.
23. Other Serious Diseases
Women are more likely to develop serious diseases like osteoporosis and pancreatitis. These issues will likely happen because liquor will affect a woman’s menstrual cycle. Large fluctuations in hormonal levels can cause the body to go haywire. It can cause vital organs to cease to function properly.
24. Facial Changes
Women who drink excessively can witness negative changes to their appearance. Physical signs of alcoholism are obvious in one’s facial appearance. Heavy drinkers tend to look older and more fatigued. It’s easy to spot alcoholism. All you need to do is look for broken capillaries on the nose and face. An alcoholic’s nose will also usually be more bulbous. It may also be red and bumpy. This phenomenon is also known as rhinophyma. It’s caused by constant inflammation of the body and skin. An alcoholic’s face is also more prone to swelling and cellulite. Alcohol causes the face to look bloated and puffy. Once again, these effects are most obvious among women who are long-time heavy drinkers.
Contact Women’s Recovery
The list above is intended to be a guide. It’s not a definite diagnosis, but it can help you figure out whether you or someone you love has an addiction to alcohol. If you notice a loved one struggling with a drinking problem, consider staging an intervention to halt this destructive cycle.
If you have any questions or concerns that you might be struggling with alcohol addiction, we are here to help. Reach out to us at 833.754.0554 or contact us online to get started toward a life of recovery.