August 8, 2023

Women’s Problem Drinking Is Catching Up to Men’s

Dr. G. Scott Winder talks about the growing incidence of alcohol-related liver problems among women in their 20s and 30s, driven by biological factors and heightened alcohol consumption, which has become particularly noticeable during the pandemic.

Read the full article on WSJ's website. 


Biological differences

Drinking affects women’s bodies differently than it does men’s.

Women tend to store more body fat than men. Fat contains less water than muscle, so women’s bodies tend to have less water. That difference means women’s bodies feel the effects of alcohol more quickly. 

Women also have higher levels of estrogen than men do, and the hormone affects the liver in a way that makes its cells and tissue more vulnerable to damage from alcohol, says Dr. G. Scott Winder, a psychiatrist who works in the hepatology department at the University of Michigan.

Winder, who treats mental health conditions in patients awaiting liver transplants, says alcohol-related liver problems in women in their 20s and 30s were growing more common before Covid-19 but became starkly apparent during the pandemic.

“This gradual scarring of the liver that used to be a disease stereotypically of men in their 60s now is a disease increasingly of women in their 30s,” says Winder.

Dr. Akhil Anand, an addiction psychiatrist at Cleveland Clinic’s alcohol-related liver disease clinic, says he is seeing more women receiving addiction treatment for alcohol than ever before. 

He has seen more women do something called “telescoping,” where they quickly escalate their drinking level over a short period. That run-up in drinking, combined with biological differences, can result in women developing alcohol-related health problems more quickly than men do, he says.