Alcohol Damages Women Quicker: Study

WASHINGTON ~ Alcohol abuse damages women’s brains and other organs more rapidly than men’s, according to a new study.

Women suffered from alcoholism sooner and while drinking smaller quantities than men, according to authors of the study published in the May issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Researchers gave 78 male and 24 female Russian alcoholics aged 18-40 a battery of tests of their mental functions after four weeks’ abstinence as well as a control group of 68 men and women who were not alcoholics.

The female alcoholics did worse on tests of visual memory, reasoning and problem-solving than their male counterparts.

“Women experience the negative physiological consequences of alcohol abuse or dependence earlier in their drinking careers and with less alcohol consumption than do men,” explained Barbara Flannery, senior scientist at RTI International and corresponding author for the study.

“Women have greater liver, heart and other cardiovascular consequences than do men,” she said.

“The female alcoholics, when compared to the male alcoholics, performed worse on tests of visual working memory, spatial planning, problem solving and cognitive flexibility.”

These deficits fall under the category of executive functioning, she added, which are also called higher-order functioning because they involved the integration of more primary cognitive skills.

“Deficits in executive functioning have a more pervasive effect on one’s ability to function on a daily basis,” Flannery said. “For example, difficulties with problem solving could impact an individual’s ability to plan and execute a strategy to overcome a dilemma in daily life.”

James Garbutt, professor of psychiatry and research scientist at Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, University of North Carolina, said the findings could be used to help treat alcoholism in women.

“Women should be made aware, and this includes teenagers and college women who drink to excess, that alcohol has a more detrimental effect on them both physically and cognitively,” he said.

“The study reveals that excessive alcohol can reduce one’s intellectual abilities,” Garbutt added. “This knowledge might have increased motivating power to help some individuals move away from destructive drinking.”

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