Drinking: Men and Women are Unequal

When it comes to alcohol, men and women are inherently unequal and no legislation can impose sexual equality on them. It's absolutely essential for the health and safety of women to understand this inequality and act accordingly.

Contrary to common myth, not even men and women of the same height and weight experience the same effects from consuming identical amounts of alcohol.

Women are affected by alcohol more rapidly because they tend to have a higher proportion of body fat than men. As fat cannot absorb alcohol, it is concentrated at higher levels in the blood. Women also have less of a gastric or stomach enzyme (dehydrogenase) that metabolizes or breaks down alcohol before it enters the bloodstream. Because of this, women absorb up to nearly 30% more alcohol into their bloodstream than men of the same height and weight who drink the same amount of alcohol. Women are also usually shorter and lighter than men, further concentrating alcohol in their blood. Therefore, when women of average size consume one drink, it will have almost the same effect as two drinks do for the average-size man. If women eat little or skip food entirely, that compounds the effects of drinking alcohol.

Hormone changes during the menstrual cycle can also affect alcohol metabolism adversely, increasing the impact of alcohol.

The bottom line is that a woman who hopes to "hold her own" in drinking against a man is putting herself at great risk.

Although men and women are unequal when it comes to the effects of alcohol, that's not true of alcohol beverages themselves. Standard drinks of beer, wine or distilled spirits all contain equivalent amounts of alcohol... they're all the same to a breathalyzer.

There are a number of things both men and women can do to avoid problems with alcohol: For example:

  • Know your limit. If you're not sure, experiment at home with your spouse or some other consume one drink per hour without any ill effects. Also, experiment with The Drink Wheel.
  • Eat food while you drink. Food, especially high protein food such as meat, cheese and peanuts, will help slow the absorption of alcohol into your body.
  • Sip your drinks. If you gulp, you also lose the pleasure of their flavors and aromas.
  • Don't participate in "chugging" contests or other drinking games.
  • Accept a drink only when you really want one. If someone tries to force a drink on you, ask for a non-alcohol beverage instead. If that doesn't work, "lose" your drink by setting
    it down someplace and leaving it.
  • Skip a drink now and then or alternate alcohol and non-alcohol drinks. Having non- alcohol drinks will help keep your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) down, as does spacing your alcohol drinks.
  • Keep active; don't just sit around and drink. If you stay active you tend to drink less and be to be more aware of any effects alcohol may be having on you.
  • Beware of unfamiliar drinks. Some drinks such, as zombies and other fruit drinks, can
    be deceiving as the alcohol content is not easily detectable. Therefore, it is difficult to space them properly.
  • Use alcohol carefully in connection with pharmaceuticals. Ask your physician or pharmacist about any precautions or prohibitions and follow any advice received.

The good news is that, contrary to common myth, alcohol is not fattening and research has demonstrated that for many women, drinking leads to slight weight loss. [see Alcohol, Calories and Weight]

It pays to know the facts, good or bad.

This page is informational only and does not constitute medical or health advice and none should be inferred. For all questions concerning health and diet, contact your physician or other qualified health care provider.


  • Frezza, M., et al. High blood levels in women: The role of decreased gastric alcohol dehydrogenase activity and first-pass metabolism. The New England Journal of Medicine, 1990, 322(2), 95-99.
  • Toufexis, A. Why men can outdrink women. Time, 1990 (January 22), p. 61.

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