Alcohol Harm in Women

The harm alcohol can cause women has been proven, but it is still widely unknown amongst people, hence, the growing amount of women who are consuming alcohol. Because women’s bodies absorb more alcohol than men, it takes a longer time for the body to metabolize and rid the body of it, so there is a greater risk for long-term health problems.

The CDC reports that 46% of adult women reported drinking in the last 30 days, and 12% of women reported binge drinking 3 times per month–averaging 5 drinks per binge. Women may have adverse health outcomes from these behaviors related to reproduction and fertility, liver disease, brain function, heart function, an increased risk of cancer, and an increased risk of sexual assault. 

The relationship between alcohol consumption and breast cancer has also been heavily researched. The Susan G. Koman website reports that from an analysis of 53 studies, it was found that for each alcoholic beverage consumed each day, the relative risk of breast cancer increased 7%. Some may argue that there has been proven benefits for the heart with drinking alcohol, but as this article states–is this a fair trade when the risk of breast cancer is also increased? With such overwhelming evidence that there is a relationship between alcohol consumption and breast cancer (and other diseases), how can we make sure women are receiving the message that alcohol is harmful to our health? 

Doctors should get involved, and ask screening questions about alcohol use. Doctors should be able to educate women on the adverse health outcomes of alcohol consumption.

Brief interventions have been proven to reduce drinking alcohol among women. These interventions were performed in clinical settings and healthcare services, and the study showed that there was an decrease in both the number of days alcohol was consumed and the amount. The effectiveness of these brief interventions was noted to be related to the impact on reproductive health and the lower social acceptance of female consumption.  However, young people are less interested in having babies now more than ever. We also know it is becoming increasingly acceptable for women to consume alcohol.

This article discusses the cultural shift and how pop culture seems to “celebrate women who drink rather than warn against it.” This makes it difficult to identify what kind of interventions would be successful. 

There have been public campaigns against harmful substances such as tobacco and e-cigs, as well as campaigns against drunk driving and texting while driving.  Perhaps a campaign about the gender-specific effects of alcohol on women would be helpful. I, for one, have these campaigns in the back of my mind when I see people smoking cigarettes or texting while they are driving. It is a tricky issue because some may see this kind of campaign as an attack on women. Most importantly, I believe conversations like those tweeting #GSUwhyshedrinks must continue, as awareness is key for solving this growing issue. 

Alcohol consumption causes breast cancer: Did you know?

It is clear that many women still don’t know about the harm alcohol can cause, including breast cancer. How can we better disseminate these messages?

Unfortunately, there are several women and girls who are not aware of the consequences of alcohol. Through my current research using the YRBS 2017 survey, it appears that high school girls are starting to drink earlier than before, and Black and Hispanic girls are engaging in binge drinking more than their male counterparts.

During my time in middle and high school, health teachers only discussed that alcohol and sex is wrong and should be avoided completely, but they did not tell us what the side effects are of engaging in drinking. They basically only said that we would not be able to drive after drinking, and that our vision would be blurry. Nothing about cancer.

Many people, including myself get to college not knowing that alcohol causes more problems than just liver cancer. One drink and we’ll be fine right? But one drink can contain 4 shots of vodka. Don’t you think that affects your body, especially if you continue with that mindset? The answer is YES. And to my women friends, did you know that the more alcohol we drink, the more we increase our chances of developing breast cancer? Yeah, neither did I until a few weeks ago….and I’m 23. 

Here is an excerpt from

“Research consistently shows that drinking alcoholic beverages — beer, wine, and liquor — increases a woman’s risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Alcohol also may increase breast cancer risk by damaging DNA in cells.”

Did you know that before reading this blog? 

–Yeah, I didn’t think so. This goes to show that important information related to alcohol and cancer has not been given often to the general public. 

What we should do to disseminate this information better:

  1. Provide healthy drinking guidelines to high school and college students. 
    • Here’s an infographic on what excessive alcohol use is. I strongly believe pictures describe 1,000 words.
  2. Once in college, Resident Assistants (RAs) should be responsible for giving a safe drinking lecture and holding an exercise to demonstrate how much is okay to drink and what kind of diseases can come from drinking. Speaking from experience, college students learn more from people their own age– neither professors nor administrators. 
  3. I strongly believe in community programs. Macon, Georgia is a relatively large city and puts together something called “Open Streets” every year. During this program, the streets are blocked off in the city, and open for people to partake in exercise classes and ride their bikes all across town! Atlanta has a similar thing called Atlanta Streets Alive. These programs are super successful. So, maybe at these programs, alcohol lectures can be given! 
  4. Fliers!!! Fliers are so powerful! Pictures. Words. Colors. It’s eye-catching. One of the best ways I got information about events and programs in college was through fliers. Location is key! They need to be placed where young people go, such as the mall, the grocery store, the movies, etc. 
  5. Advertisements on social media. Recently, I have noticed advertisements about the JUUL on Snapchat. Every post I look at, there’s an advertisement about how the JUUL leads to certain health issues. I think social media is an easy and effective way to reach young people and the population that drinks the most. 


Works cited:

How Does Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages Impact Women?

Gone are those days when you would think excessive alcohol drinking was a man’s problem. The shift in excessive alcohol drinking patterns among women is on the rise particularly in younger age groups. Findings from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that about 5.3 million women suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
Women tolerate alcohol differently than men. Do you know why? Perhaps this may be since women have a lower body weight than men, less body water and higher percentage of body fat. In addition, women metabolize alcohol at a slower rate than men, so alcohol may remain in their tissues longer (1). There is evidence from studies that for equivalent doses of alcohol, women are more vulnerable than men to tissue damage and the onset of certain diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver and physical alcohol dependence (2). Heavier alcohol use by women is also thought to increase risk of bone fracture and osteoporosis (3). Furthermore, women can be more vulnerable to physical risks through violence or abuse when intoxicated (4).

But the harms done to women by alcohol are many, and most do not seem to know. You will be surprised to learn this. Consumption of alcoholic beverages is now recognized as a known human carcinogen. This is stated in the Report on Carcinogens by the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

What is more alarming is the fact that alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer in women. It is estimated that about 2.1 to 4.0% of breast cancers are primarily due to alcohol consumption accounting for 9000–23,000 new invasive breast cancer cases each year. Studies suggest a 7–10% increase in risk for each 10 g (~1 drink) alcohol consumed daily by adult women. And the risk increases for every additional drink they have per day. This raises a clinical and public health concern because nearly half of women of child-bearing age drink alcohol and 15% of drinkers at this age have four or more drinks at a time.

Do Women need to be informed about the association of Alcohol and breast cancer? Definitely? What can be done? Some strategies to consider: – Use mass media advertising campaigns involving television, billboard displays and Transit advertising on modes of public transportation or in public transportation areas), social media platforms to disseminate this information.

Image source: CDC

These can aim at reduction of alcohol consumption in women, influence risk perceptions of women on alcohol consumption and increase their level of awareness on Alcohol as a risk factor for breast cancer.

Another strategy- Make the women aware through their Family Physicians. Family Physicians could screen female patients and provide behavioral counseling and make them aware of association of alcohol with breast cancer. How about using cancer centers to do some outreach to the community? Appropriate staff in these centers could post position papers in peer reviewed journals on how alcohol affects risk of cancer in women.

Yet another strategy would be to have warning labels on alcohol bottles, however this is not easy as it seems, and this is some food for thought I suppose.


1. Plant M. Women and Alcohol: contemporary and historical perspectives. London: Free Association Books, 1997.
2. Kalant H. Absorption, diffusion, distribution and elimination of ethanol: effects on biological membranes. In: Kissin B, Begleiter H, eds. The biology of Alcohol ism, vol 1. Biochemistry. New York: Plenum Press, 1971.
3. Baron JA, Bahman YF, Weiderpass E, et al. Cigarette smoking, Alcohol consumption and risk of hip fracture in women. Arch Int Med 2001; 161:983 ± 90.
4. Jacobs J. The links between substance misuse and domestic violence: current knowledge and debates. London: Alcohol Concern and ISDD, 1998.

Alcohol & Breast Cancer


The Problem: Alcohol Attributable Breast Cancer

     Alcohol consumption and the effects that it has on increasing the risk that a women will develop breast cancer in the future is something that has been studied extensively the past 20 years. Some of these studies date back to early epidemiological data that suggests that “Increased estrogen and androgen levels in women consuming alcohol appear to be important mechanisms underlying the association.” (Singleton, 2001). According to a study that was conducted in 2012, globally about 144,000 breast cancer cases and 38,000 breast cancer deaths were attributed to alcohol consumption (Shield, 2016). The report stated that a sizable amount of the 38,000 breast cancer deaths were attributable to light drinking which was classified as having 3 to 6 drinks a week. This same study found that the highest incidences of alcohol attributable breast cancer deaths and cases were located in Northern and Western Europe (12.4 cases of breast cancer per 100,000 women) followed by North America and Oceania (9.8 cases per 100,000 women). The map that was included in  the research studpage8image429650960y which visually illustrates the geographic distribution of the alcoholic attributable breast cancer cases globally in 2012 is shown here to the right. This map shows a concentration of alcohol attributed cases and deaths in regions of the world that are highly developed. With this research still being relatively new the researchers noted that further research would be done to determine how drinking patterns, age in which alcohol is consumed, and genetic differences increase or decrease your risk for dying from or developing breast cancer. With the growing buzz around this research the question begs itself, how can this information be disseminated to women? Through public advertisements? At screenings? These are questions that should be asked to try combat this issue.



Spreading the Word: From the Doctor’s Office to Your Bar

     With all of the new research coming out each day regarding alcohol consumption and breast cancer awareness, the next step would be to inform the women who may be at risk. As mentioned in the research study above, researchers found that even being a light drinker (3 to 6 drinks per week) has the potential to increase women’s chances of developing breast cancer. In my opinion, some of the best ways to disseminate this information would be during physicals initially. This will be a very good method to enforce preventive methods of reducing alcohol-attributable breast cancer cases. During a woman’s annual physical, her primary care physician can explain to her the research being done in the field and include information about how the weekly consumption of alcohol may increase their risk of getting breast cancer. For women that may be uninsured, although it may be a bit of a stretch but literature that illustrates the risk of constantly consuming alcoholic beverages and its potential ties to breast cancer in stores and establishments where alcohol is sold could go a long way in potentially preventing women from indulging in habits that may increase their breast cancer risk. For an intervention to disseminate information through bars in liquor stores and bars would probably require some type of policy to be written. It can be expected that liquor companies and any other interested parties will provide all sorts of push back to stop advertising that would hurt sales. If women are more informed, public opinion may put enough pressure on these companies to ensure that they are informing their patrons of the risks they are exposing themselves to.