Excessive Alcohol Use is a Risk to Women's Health

Excessive alcohol use is associated with more than 27,000 deaths among women and girls each year.1 Excessive alcohol use poses unique health and safety risks to females.2

Alcohol Use is Common Among Women and Girls

Female on park bench with bottle of alcohol in paper bag
  • Nearly half of adult women report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days.3
  • Approximately 13% of adult women report binge drinking and on average do so 4 times a month, consuming 5 drinks per binge.4
  • About 18% of women of child-bearing age (i.e., ages 18–44 years) binge drink.4
  • In 2019, about 32% of female high school students consumed alcohol compared with 26% of male high school students. Binge drinking was also more common among female (15%) than male (13%) high school students.5
  • In 2019, 4% of women overall and 8% of women aged 18 to 25 years had an alcohol use disorder.6

Alcohol Affects Women Differently than Men

Although men are more likely to drink alcohol and consume larger amounts, biological differences in body structure and chemistry lead most women to absorb more alcohol and take longer to metabolize it. After drinking the same amount of alcohol, women tend to have higher blood alcohol levels than men, and the immediate effects of alcohol usually occur more quickly and last longer in women than men. These differences make women more susceptible to the long-term negative health effects of alcohol compared with men.2

Alcohol is Associated with other Diseases, Injuries, and Harms

  • Liver Disease: The risk of cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases is higher for women than for men.2,7
  • Impact on the Brain: Alcohol-related cognitive decline and shrinkage of the brain develop more quickly for women than for men.2
  • Impact on the Heart: Women who drink excessively are at increased risk for damage to the heart muscle at lower levels of consumption and over fewer years of drinking than men.2
  • Breast and other Cancers: Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon. In women, drinking is also associated with breast cancer, even at low levels of consumption.2,8
  • Sexual Violence: Excessive alcohol use, particularly binge drinking, is a major contributing factor to sexual violence.9,10 Changes in alcohol-related policies can reduce sexual violence in communities.11

There is No Known Safe Amount of Alcohol Use during Pregnancy

  • In a recent study, 10% of respondents who were pregnant drank alcohol and 4.5% binge drank.15
  • Alcohol use during pregnancy increases the risk of having a baby with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). The most severe form is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which is associated with intellectual disabilities and birth defects.16
  • FASD are 100% preventable if a person does not drink while pregnant or while trying to become pregnant. It is not safe to drink at any time during pregnancy.17
  • Excessive alcohol use increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).2,18,19

Women can reduce the amount of alcohol they drink to reduce their risk of harms.

The Alcohol Use and Your Health Fact Sheet addresses a number of additional health conditions associated with excessive alcohol use that affect both men and women.

  1. Esser MB, Sherk A, Liu Y, et al. Deaths and years of potential life lost from excessive alcohol use — United States, 2011–2015. MMWR 2020;69:1428–1433.
  2. Erol A, Karpyak VM. Sex and gender-related differences in alcohol use and its consequences: Contemporary knowledge and future research considerationsexternal icon. Drug Alcohol Depend 2015;156:1–13.
  3. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Accessed October 1, 2020.
  4. Chronic Disease Indicators. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Accessed October 1, 2020.
  5. Jones CM, Clayton HB, Deputy NP, et al. Prescription opioid misuse and use of alcohol and other substances among high school students — Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 2019. MMWR Suppl 2020;69:38–46.
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tablesexternal icon. Rockville, MD: 2020.
  7. Roerecke M, Vafaei A, Hasan OSM, et al. Alcohol consumption and risk of liver cirrhosis: A systematic review and meta-analysisexternal icon. Am J Gastroenterol 2019;114:1574–1586.
  8. Rehm J, Shield KD, Weiderpass E. Alcohol Consumption: A Leading Risk Factor for Cancer. In: Wild CP, Weiderpass E, Stewart BW, eds. World Cancer Reportexternal icon. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2020:68–76.
  9. Sexual Violence: Risk and Protective Factors. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Accessed September 30, 2020.
  10. Mohler-Kuo M, Dowdall GW, Koss M, Wechsler H. Correlates of rape while intoxicated in a national sample of college womenexternal icon. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 2004;65:37–45.
  11. Basile KC, DeGue S, Jones K, et al. STOP SV: A Technical Package to Prevent Sexual Violencepdf icon. Atlanta, GA: CDC; 2017.
  12. Rachdaoui N, Sarkar DK. Pathophysiology of the effects of alcohol abuse on the endocrine systemexternal icon. Alcohol Res 2017;38:255–276.
  13. Naimi TS, Lipscomb LE, Brewer RD, Gilbert BC. Binge drinking in the preconception period and the risk of unintended pregnancy: Implications for women and their childrenexternal icon. Pediatrics 2003;111(5):1136–1141.
  14. Staying Healthy and Preventing STDs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Accessed September 30, 2020.
  15. England LJ, Bennett C, Denny CH, Honein MA, Gilboa SM, Kim SY, Guy GP, Tran EL, Rose CE, Bohm MK, Boyle CA. Alcohol use and co-use of other substances among pregnant females aged 12–44 years — United States, 2015–2018. MMWR 2020;69:1009–1014.
  16. Mattson SN, Bernes GA, Doyle LR. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: a review of the neurobehavioral deficits associated with prenatal alcohol exposureexternal icon. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2019;43:1046–62.
  17. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Accessed September 30, 2020.
  18. Bailey BA, Sokol RJ. Prenatal alcohol exposure and miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm delivery, and sudden infant death syndromeexternal icon. Alcohol Res Health 2011;34:86–91.
  19. Moon RY; Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Evidence base for 2016 updated recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environmentexternal icon. Pediatrics 2016;138:e2016–2940.