How many times have you woken up, head pounding, and promised yourself: Never again? Most of us are familiar with the killer hangovers, mystery bruises and nauseous feelings of remorse that come with overdoing it on the booze. But some of alcohol’s more serious potential health impacts are far less well known or discussed, particularly where women are concerned.
Perhaps that’s because statistics on alcohol use show that men are more likely to drink than women, and those aged 45-64 are the most likely to drink. Meanwhile teetotalism has increased among 16-44-year-olds since 2005, and those aged 16-24 are the least likely group to drink.
“Everybody knows that liver disease is related to alcohol, but what’s less well known is that it affects younger and younger people, and it’s started to affect women much more than it used to,” says Professor Petra Meier, director of the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group. “It used to be a predominantly male, middle-aged condition, and now hospitals tells us they increasingly see younger people and women in their 30s who’ve drunk too much over a period of time and really damaged their livers.”
Research published earlier this month reveals our national drinking habits are taking a serious toll on the NHS. The review, published by King’s College London (KCL), found that one in 10 hospital inpatients are dependent on alcohol, while one in five “use alcohol harmfully”.
“Alcohol can affect pretty much every body system, from your heart to your liver to your nervous system, and it can also have significant effects on your mental health,” explains Dr Emmert Roberts, an addictions psychiatrist at KCL, who led the research.
“If you’re ending up in hospital with an alcohol-related problem, you’re using alcohol harmfully because it’s in some way affected your mental or physical health. That could be anything from getting drunk and breaking a bone, right up to liver cirrhosis that’s caused by alcohol,” he adds.
We spoke to three women in their 20s and 30s whose social drinking did develop into a more serious alcohol dependence, causing significant and frightening damage to their internal organs, nervous systems, and even their bones.