We see it everywhere; on television, in department stores, on drinking glasses and t-shirts: “Mama needs a cocktail,” “There’s a good chance this is wine,” “Weekend forecast: 100% chance of wine”. Brunch dates with the girls (“I’ll have a mimosa- light on the orange juice!”) and Taco Tuesdays (happy hour margaritas, anyone?). These messages have been subconsciously programmed into everyday life, making it socially acceptable to pop the cork without much thought.
How Does Alcohol Affect Women?
Alcohol consumption affects women differently than men. For example:
- Liver Disease - The risk of cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases is higher for women than for men.
- Impact on the Brain - Excessive drinking may result in memory loss and shrinkage of the brain. Women are more vulnerable than men to the brain damaging effects of excessive alcohol use, and the damage tends to appear with shorter periods of excessive drinking for women than for men.
- Impact on the Heart - Studies have shown that women who drink excessively are more at increased risk for damage to the heart muscle than men.
- Cancer - Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast among women. The risk of breast cancer increases as alcohol use increases.
- Sexual Assault - Binge drinking is a risk factor for sexual assault, especially among young women. Research suggests that there is an increase in the risk of rape or sexual assault when both the attacker and victim have used alcohol prior to the attack.
Are You Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is when one drinks too fast and too much to bring the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08 or higher. For women, this typically occurs after having 4 drinks within 2 hours.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that:
- 46% of women report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days
- 12% of women report binge drinking three times per month, with five or more drinks per binge
- 5% of women met the diagnostic criteria for Alcohol Use Disorderin the past year
Pregnant or Thinking About Getting Pregnant?
Put down the glass, even if there’s only a possibility you could be.
The first few weeks of pregnancy are crucial in the development of a baby’s vital organs, systems, and limbs. Alcohol and substances can adversely affect this critical period of growth with life-long health concerns.
When you drink while pregnant, alcohol in your blood passes to your baby through the umbilical cord. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
Children with FASDs might have the following characteristics and behaviors: Abnormal facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip small head size, shorter-than-average height, low body weight, poor coordination, hyperactive behavior, difficulty with attention, poor memory, difficulty in school (especially with math), learning disabilities, speech and language delays, intellectual disability or low IQ, poor reasoning and judgment skills, sleep and sucking problems as a baby, vision or hearing problems, problems with the heart, kidney, or bones . (Source: CDC.gov)
What About Other Substances and Pregnancy?
There are various other drugs that may have adverse prenatal effects. These include, but are not limited to:
- MDMA (Molly)
- Prescription and over-the-counter drugs
Marijuana and Motherhood
According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 20 women use marijuana during pregnancy. Of these, many use it to help curb symptoms of morning sickness. Marijuana use during pregnancy can be harmful to the baby, regardless of how it is administered (smoked, eaten, topical creams, etc.). The chemicals in marijuana are similar to those in tobacco smoke and pass through the placenta, potentially resulting in low birth weight, premature birth, developmental and neurological problems including difficulties in the child playing and learning and are at higher risk for behavioral problems and poor academic performance.
Mothers who are experiencing postpartum depression should see their doctor instead of using marijuana. Although the high may temporarily alleviate symptoms, it will not treat postpartum depression.