Sex Differences in Alcohol Metabolism

According to the World Health Organization, alcohol is one of the most significant risk factors for diseases including chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.  Compared with men, women become more cognitively impaired by alcohol and are more susceptible to alcohol-related organ damage.    Women develop damage with less intake and  over a shorter period of time than men.   When men and women of the same weight consume equal amounts of alcohol, women have higher blood alcohol concentrations.   This is due in part because women have proportionately more body fat and a lower volume of body water compared with men of similar weight. This leads to women having a higher concentration of alcohol because there is less volume of water to dilute the alcohol.

in women, alcohol metabolizes slower in their stomachs and upper intestines allowing more alcohol to reach the blood stream and other organs than in men, leading to increased organ damage.  Women have more severe complications related to alcohol abuse than men including developing alcohol dependency more quickly.   Damage resulting from alcohol dependency  that is more severe in women includes liver damage (hepatitis/cirrhosis), premature death from cardiovascular conditions, cognitive and motor function decline,  and fertility issues.

Age seems to matter.  Older women have even less body water, a decreased tolerance for alcohol, and an even slower metabolism rate for alcohol.

Source:  Substance Abuse Treatment:  Addressing the Specific needs of Women. HHS Publication No.  (SMA) 09-4426.  2009