Same Drinks, Different Metabolisms: One Size Does NOT Fit All

Last Updated on July 31, 2019

Alcohol Is Broken Down Differently in Women’s and Men’s Bodies

Men and women have the same opportunities to drink at holiday parties, tailgates, business dinners, weddings, and other occasions. However, men and women do not have the same ability to process alcohol. Women’s bodies experience physical consequences from excessive drinking much faster than men’s.

Medical and scientific research have revealed significant differences in the way men’s and women’s bodies process alcohol at the most basic cellular, biochemical and physiological levels. Here is a sampling of what we currently know on the subject.l

Women break down less alcohol in their stomachs (2)

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Your body needs to neutralize alcohol in order to protect itself against cellular damage. To accomplish this, the process of alcohol detoxification starts in your stomach even before any alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream. This process occurs with the help of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH).

Women’s stomachs make less ADH than men’s, so that, on average, women break down about 75% less alcohol in their stomachs (2).

Women take on more alcohol into the bloodstream, leading to faster intoxication

Since alcohol lingers longer in women’s stomachs, more of it is able to enter the bloodstream, leading to more rapid intoxication from less alcohol.

Woman dilute alcohol slower

On average, men’s larger muscle mass means that they have 5-20% higher proportional water content compared to women. This gives men a greater ability to dilute the alcohol they consume, slowing down its inebriating effects.

Women are more susceptible to cirrhosis

Heavy drinking increases the workload on the liver.  Women who over-consume alcohol are more susceptible to developing alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis and, as a result, these conditions occur sooner and require less total alcohol consumption for women alcoholics than for their male counterparts (5).

Neurologic Effects Happen Sooner for Women

Statistically, neurological damage occurs at earlier stages in the process of abuse and addiction for women than for their male counterparts (1) and these effects have been documented in all areas of the central and peripheral nervous system.

  • Adult alcohol-dependent women experience brain shrinkage and damage to the corpus callosum — the bundle of nerve fibers that coordinates communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain — at a greater rate than alcoholic men (8).
  • Some studies show that women are more susceptible to developing alcohol-related peripheral neuropathy. This condition, characterized by numbness, tingling or stabbing sensations in the hands or feet results from damage to the peripheral sensory nerves (5).

It is therefore crucial for women to be conscious of their consumption of alcohol and NOT to compare their intake with a male partner or friend as the standard.


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