Why alcohol affects women differently to men

It may sound a bit sexist, but it's simple biology.

The government advises that people should not regularly drink more than the lower risk guidelines of 3-4 units of alcohol for men (equivalent to a pint and a half of 4% beer) and 2-3 units of alcohol for women (equivalent to a 13% ABV 175 ml glass of wine).

Women are advised to drink less because, in general, their bodies don’t process alcohol as efficiently as men’s.

Women start to have alcohol-related problems at lower drinking levels than men do. They tend to absorb more alcohol and take longer to break it down and remove it from their bodies. So, when drinking equal amounts, women will have higher alcohol levels in their blood than men, and the immediate effects happen quicker and last longer.

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There are a few reasons for this

  • On average women weigh less than men.
  • Alcohol disperses in body water, and pound for pound, women have less water in their bodies than men do.
  • So after a man and woman of the same weight drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman's blood alcohol concentration will tend to be higher – this puts women at greater risk of harm.
  • As a result, a woman’s brain and other organs tend to be exposed to more alcohol, as well as to more of the potentially harmful by-products which result when the body breaks down and eliminates alcohol.

Sticking to the lower risk guidelines, for men and women, will help you enjoy a drink without putting your health at risk.

To find out more about the number of units in your favourite drink, use our unit calculator.

Keep track of what you are drinking with our online tool MyDrinkaware. It has lots of tips to help you cut back too.

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How to cut down

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Page updated: May 2015