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ALCOHOL'S ACUTE EFFECTS ON THE BODY: DIFFERENCES IN WOMEN

Substitute a 120-pound woman in the foregoing examples, and the weight differential would certainly speed up the process. With one drink in 1 hour, she would have a BAC of .003; two and a half drinks, and she'd be up to .07. By five drinks, she'd have a .14 reading. Should she make it through a pint, she'd be in a coma with a level of .45. Tomorrow might not come as soon for her. Besides the differences in body weight, other factors can speed up or alter this process. Women and men differ in their relative amounts of body fat and water. Women have a higher proportion of fat and correspondingly lower amounts of water. Alcohol is not very fat soluble. Therefore, a woman and a man of the same body weight, both drinking the same amounts of alcohol, will have different blood alcohol levels. Hers will be higher. She has proportionately less water than he has in which to dilute her alcohol.

There is another critical difference between men and women in respect to how they handle alcohol. A woman's menstrual cycle significantly influences her rate of absorption and/or metabolism of alcohol. This difference presumably relates to the changing balances of sex hormones and appears to be the result of several interacting factors. During the premenstrual phase of her cycle, a woman absorbs alcohol more rapidly. The absorption rate is significantly faster than in other phases of the menstrual cycle. So premenstrually a woman will get a higher blood alcohol level than she would get from drinking an equivalent amount at other times. In practical terms, a woman may find herself getting drunk faster right before her period. There is also evidence that women taking birth-control pills also will absorb alcohol faster and thereby have higher blood alcohol levels.

Quite possibly other important biological differences may exist between men and women in terms of alcohol's effects. Virtually all the physiological research has been conducted on men, and researchers have then blithely assumed their findings to be equally true for women. Though the basic differences between absorption rates of men and women were reported as early as 1932, they were forgotten and/or ignored until the mid-1970s. Believe it or not, the impact of the menstrual cycle was first recognized and reported in 1976! With this failure to examine the effects of the primary and obvious difference between males and females, who knows what more subtle areas have not been considered. End of sermon!

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