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Women, are you at risk for alcohol abuse?

Most people think they know what a woman alcoholic looks like –a fall-down drunk whose life is littered with DUI convictions, or maybe the sad lush acting a fool at every office party.

In truth, women struggling with alcohol often look just like everybody else. An estimated 5.3 million American women either are alcoholic or have alcohol-abuse disorder — meaning they regularly consume too much booze, but aren’t dependent on it.

Although the difference may seem like semantics, it’s not. Once a person becomes addicted to alcohol, there may be no turning back. Although many do achieve sobriety or make the attempt — Alcoholics Anonymous has an estimated 1.3 million members in the U.S., for example — alcoholism can be a life sentence.

The latest guidelines from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism classify any woman who’s had more than three drinks in a single day in the past year or who typically consumes more than seven drinks per week as an at-risk drinker. She’s among the 28 percent of American adults who are most likely to develop or already have a drinking problem.

Keep in mind those measures are based on a strict definition of alcoholic drinks — 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof alcohol. Because many Americans have super-sized their happy hour, drinks such as cosmopolitans or margaritas are often spiked with 2 ounces of alcohol.

It’s also important to assess alcohol’s effects.
Classic warning signs include drinking more, or for longer periods, than intended, or having conflicts with loved ones about drinking.

Family history also counts. Children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics than the general population.

Although women are less likely to develop alcohol problems than men, the health consequences for them can be more severe. “Women tend to absorb more alcohol than men due to differences in body chemistry,” said Cheryl Knepper, executive director of adult services at Caron Treatment Centers, based in Wernersville, Pa. “So when women drink, they retain higher levels of blood alcohol, which makes them more prone to liver disease and other problems.”

Alcohol abuse is also linked to infertility, osteoporosis, heart disease and depression. Yet women — especially those with kids — are less likely than men to seek help. “Women generally know they have a problem long before they seek a solution,” said Knepper. “They think they can handle it on their own.”

One good litmus test of the role alcohol plays in your life, said Dr. Keith Ablow, is how you’d feel about giving it up. “If you told me chewing gum might impact my health or the safety of my kids, I’d give it up in a heartbeat. But if the idea of stopping drinking troubles you, then you have to admit you have a more complicated relationship with alcohol than most people.”

source: Salt Lake Tribune

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