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Column: Women can't keep up with men when it comes to alcohol and they shouldn't try

Women should be aware that they are more at risk from the effects of alcohol than men, writes Anne Timony Meehan.

DID YOU KNOW that the word ‘intoxicate’ means to poison oneself? It’s a ‘sobering’ thought isn’t it?

Women need to be careful and aware when drinking. Having equal rights does not mean that we are physically capable of keeping up with the boys all the time when it comes to drinking.

In Ireland we seem to be drinking more than ever before. The way we drink has also changed. Ireland has the highest level of binge drinking in Europe (that’s six or more standard drinks in any one sitting). Women now try to keep pace with their male counterparts when drinking. The SLAN study found that for women, those in the 18-29 age category are the most likely to binge drink at least once a week. The most recent ESPAD report noted the narrowing gender gap in binge drinking among Irish school age children, with 42 per cent of boys and 44 per cent of girls reporting binge drinking during the previous month.

Health risks

What many of us are not aware of is that women are more at risk from the effects of alcohol than men and develop health problems much earlier than men do. For example, women are more prone to liver damage and develop liver disease such as cirrhosis or hepatitis after a shorter period of time and at lower drinking levels than men – and are more likely to die from these conditions than men. Problematic drinking can cause sexual and reproductive problems including infertility and miscarriage. Even moderate alcohol consumption can be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and women who drink heavily are at a higher risk of alcohol related brain injury.

Alcohol affects our mental health, it is a depressant and it can affect women more. Our biologically make up is partly responsible for the negative effect of alcohol on our system. Women have a proportionally higher ratio of fat to water in their bodies than men and this means that we are less able to dilute alcohol within the body. This means that if we consume the same amount of alcohol, we will have a higher concentration of alcohol in the blood. The higher the blood alcohol concentration the greater the risks we are taking with our health and safety.

Personal safety

Alcohol also has a major impact on our personal safety.  Ever wondered why your usually-shy friend ends up dancing on the table after a few drinks? Before we notice the affect of alcohol on our ability to speak, walk or general co-ordination we are already under the influence. Alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream from the stomach so within as little as three to seven minutes it has an influence on how we think, the choices we make, and the risks we take. Our reasoning and judgement are affected first.

Alcohol lowers our inhibitions and as a result we can take risks and do things we wouldn’t dream off when sober, like dancing on the table, walking home alone, leaving our drink unattended, going off without our mates, taking a lift from a stranger or from a mate who has been drinking. Simply put, being drunk makes us more vulnerable to accidents and physical or sexual assaults.

In 2009, ‘Rape & Justice in Ireland’ revealed that 70 per cent of victims of rape and 84 per cent of those accused of rape had been drinking at the time of the assault. These findings indicate that alcohol involvement in rape in Ireland is among the highest in the world.

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The low risk weekly limit

We can significantly lower the risks to our health and safety when we keep our alcohol consumption within the low risk weekly limit. The low risk weekly limit for adults is:

Up to 11 standard drinks in a week for women and up to 17 standard drinks a week for men with two alcohol-free days a week. A standard drink is the equivalent of half pint of beer, a small glass of wine (12.5 per cent vol) or one pub measure of spirits (35.5ml)

Anne Timony Meehan is Community Mobilisation Officer at Alcohol Forum.

This week is Alcohol Awareness Week (18-22 March). The campaign organisers, Alcohol Forum, aim to increase the knowledge of Ireland’s drinking culture and challenge communities to evaluate their role in tackling it. For more information on National Alcohol Awareness Week and National Alcohol Conference log onto www.alcoholforum.org.

Column: 7 things to know about teenage drinking (and how to deal with it)>

Read: Study shows even moderate drinking in pregnancy can affect child’s IQ>

About the author:

Anne Timony Meehan

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