Women are more vulnerable than men to alcohol's toxic effects. Their bodies have more fat, which retains alcohol, and less water, which dilutes it, so women drinking the same amount as men their size and weight become intoxicated more quickly. Males also have more of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which breaks down alcohol before it enters the bloodstream. This may be one reason why alcohol-related liver and brain damage appear more quickly in heavy-drinking women than men.
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[Is there a female] drinking problem? Doctors around the world differ. The
National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Department of Health
and Human Services say that for American women, anything more than a drink a day
is risky. In countries such as France, Italy and Spain, where life expectancy
for women is longer, authorities set the safe threshold at double that—and
-from the "Saturday Essay" in yesterday's Wall Street Journal by Gabrielle Glaser, entitled "Why She Drinks: Women and Alcohol Abuse."
It was hands off alcohol in my life until I went to college. I cannot remember my parents telling me not to drink. But they would not drink themselves. We were Southern Baptists, and my dad told funny stories about how Baptists drank only behind closed doors with the shades pulled down. In that way, I knew early on that drinking was something Baptists were not to do, if not for themselves personally but as an example to others who might have a sort of fatal propensity about liquor - we were to look out for our brother and be careful for ourselves. I learned that Baptists sometimes would drink anyway - I learned about hypocrisy, alcohol, and the power of alcohol.
My dad told stories about men who had ruined their lives with alcohol, men whose intellect and drive he admired. Stories were the way he made his points - he never preached at me. And I didn't feel manipulated. I could tell that he absolutely feared what could happen to himself and, then, to his family if he failed in this way (or any other way). (He warned me about the risks of sex outside of marriage this way: one example was a story he told me several times, about one of his friends in the Navy, who contracted what we now call an STD while they were stationed in Brazil during WWII. And died of it. He talked about what a fine man this fellow was, from a good Midwestern family.)
As to women and alcohol, I remember during Freshman Rush at Duke attending a frat party the ATO's threw. It was the first time I had ever seen drunk women. Furthermore, the women I saw were my age, and I was shocked. They were so pretty and fresh, and so loose with "the brothers" in their conduct. It simply depressed me, Baptist boy. It still depresses me to see an inebriated woman. Why is that? I think I fear for them. They are defenseless and unprotected.
Years later, Carol and I attended a big party at the Indian Creek Country Club, a very exclusive place. People were all dressed up. It was something out of a movie. The alcohol flowed. Toward midnight, as the party was breaking up, Carol and I saw two women trying to make their way from the tables toward the exit. They were stumbling drunk, and we were embarrassed for them. We still talk about it now and then.