Drinking and Women’s Health: Alcohol’s Long-Term Effects

Drinking and Women’s Health.

What are the long-term effects of alcohol drinking and women’s health? This is a very important question.

Researchers from Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center investigated this very important question. To do so, they reviewed published findings from the Nurses’ Health Study and Nurses’ Health Study II. Significantly, these are among the largest sources of data in the world on major diseases in women.

The Nurses’ Health Study began in 1976. Nurses’ Health Study II  began in 1989. Both studies involve periodically collecting information about lifestyle habits, other behaviors, and personal characteristics. This is done about every four years.

Researchers have analyzed the importance of these things as risk factors for various diseases and conditions. Both studies also have detailed information on alcohol drinking patterns.

The great advantage these two studies is that they collect information about the same individuals for decades. Moreover, it’s from hundreds of thousands of women. In addition, the information is very detailed. Thus, it’s possible to take into consideration smoking, obesity and other possible risk factors.


drinking and women's healthThe review of the research revealed a clear pattern. Specifically, moderate drinking by women is associated with a significantly lower risk of major health problems. These include hypertension (high blood pressure), heart attack, stroke, sudden cardiac death, gallstones and cognitive decline. That’s compared to either abstainers or heavy drinkers.  However, compared to abstainers there’s an increase in breast cancer. (About 3% of women die of breast cancer.)

Most important, moderate drinking leads to lower mortality from any cause (all-cause mortality). Women who drink in moderation live longer.

The benefits of moderate drinking increase if women drink at least four days per week.

Source: Mostofsky, E., et al. Key findings on alcohol consumption and a variety of health outcomes from the Nurses’ Health Study.  Am J Pub Health, 2016, 106(9), 1586-1591.

Resources on Drinking and Women’s Health

Carlson, K., et al. The New Harvard Guide to Women’s Health. Cambridge: Harvard U Press, 2012.

Norsigian, J. Our Bodies, Ourselves. NY: Touchstone, 2011.

Olshansky, E., and Prevost, S. Women’s Health. Philadelphia: Saunders/Elsevier, 2009.

Thurston, W., et al. Rural Women’s Health. Toronto: U Toronto Press, 2019.