UW News

January 24, 2000

Women’s problems with alcohol have far-reaching consequences

Women who drink heavily are significantly more likely than their male counterparts to suffer from liver disease, depression, psychological distress, and recent physical, emotional or sexual abuse, according to a study by researchers at Harborview Medical Center published in the January 2000 issue of the Journal of Trauma.

Research was conducted at Harborview between April 1994 and May 1996 as part of a larger study on the effectiveness of alcohol interventions for trauma patients. Although women are the fastest growing segment of the alcohol-abusing population, this study is the first to focus on female trauma patients, according to Dr. Larry Gentilello, a University of Washington (UW) associate professor of surgery and the study?s principal investigator.

“Although alcohol-related traffic crashes and citations for driving while intoxicated are similar for both genders, our study shows that other problems are much greater for women,” Gentilello explains. “Women are much more likely to have symptoms of psychological distress, including depression and more likely to have suffered recent bouts of spousal or domestic abuse.”

Previous studies have also shown that women alcoholics have higher death rates than male alcoholics, and a higher percentage die from suicides, violence or alcohol-related incidences. Because women generally have less body water than men, they are more likely to develop alcohol-induced liver disease over a shorter period of time and after consuming less alcohol.

After undergoing routine screening for alcohol use, women who agreed to participate in the study were randomly chosen to take part in an in-depth assessment of drinking patterns, levels of dependence, and problems caused by alcohol. Questions included:

* How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?

* How often do you have six or more drinks on one occasion?

* How often in the past year have you found that you were unable to stop drinking once you started?

* Have you or anyone else been injured as the result of your drinking?

“Knowing that there?s a rising trend in drinking among women makes it all the more important that we understand the differing impacts alcohol has on both genders,” Gentilello says. “The physical and psychological harm alcohol does to women reinforces the importance of counseling trauma patients about their drinking while they?re still in the hospital setting, as we?ve shown in previous studies.”

In addition to Gentilello, the study was written by Dr. Frederick Rivara, a UW professor of pediatrics and director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center; Dennis Donovan, a UW professor of psychiatry and director of the UW Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute; Dr. Andres Villaveces, UW researcher; Elizabeth Daranciang, M.P.H., research coordinator; Christopher Dunn, Ph.D.; and Dr. Richard Ries, a UW professor of psychiatry.