12 Scientific Facts About Alcoholism Every Woman Should Know

alcoholic womanWhether we're enjoying girls' night out, date night with the hubby, happy hour with coworkers -- and yeesh, who doesn't need ALL THE WINE just to get through holiday get-togethers with family -- a lot of us love raising a glass. But easy on the sauvignon blanc, sister. Because as many as 5.3 million women in the US alone have a drinking problem.

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So much for happy hour. Here's what else you should know before you imbibe.

1. Alcohol abuse is different than alcohol dependence. How? Alcohol abusers have the ability to set some boundaries in their drinking. Alcoholics can't. For instance, they may drink in dangerous situations (like behind the wheel of a car). And they may drink even though it's ruining their relationships or could cost them their jobs.

2. Alcoholism can start out as self-medication. Drinking problems start as a way to relax. That glass of pinot may self-soothe you now -- but do it too often and you may find yourself emptying the bottle after a minorly annoying day.

3. Alcoholism isn't about willpower. It's a chronic disease that actually changes the brain -- and your behavior. The more you drink, the more damage you cause to the part of your brain that regulates impulse control and decision-making. And the longer you use alcohol, the more permanent these changes may be.

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4. Did we mention your brain shrinks when you drink too much? And women's brains are more susceptible than men's.

5. There's no one thing that puts you at risk. Alcohol dependence is caused by many things -- whether it runs in your family, for instance, or how much time you spend with other people who hit the bottle hard. People who suffer from anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder are at higher risk, too.

6. How much you consume matters. Throwing back eight or more alcoholic drinks in a week (or four or more in a day) increases your chances of becoming dependent on alcohol.

7. "Handling your liquor" isn't a good thing. In fact, tolerance is a major warning sign of alcoholism. It means your body is starting to need more and more alcohol to reach the same effects.

8. There are definitive red flags. Suffering withdrawal symptoms like sweating? Trembling? Becoming irritable or headachey until you have a(nother) drink? Your body's telling you it's craving more -- and isn't going to let you deprive it without a fight. Some people even have hallucinations.

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9. Alcoholism takes a toll on your body. Let us count just some of the ways alcoholism can affect your physical health: It damages your heart, inflames your liver, weakens your immune system, and raises your risk for some cancers. (And one of those is breast cancer, FYI.)

10. The addiction can be treated. And happily, between 50 to 60 percent of people who do seek treatment are still sober a year later. Having strong social support and being motivated to change make a difference.

11. But there's no quick and easy cure. In fact, alcoholism treatment comes in three stages. First, you've got to detox and get all the alcohol out of your system. Next comes counseling and even medications. Lastly? You've got to stay sober.

12. Working out reduces your risk of becoming an alcoholic. And here you were looking for a reason to skip the gym tonight! According to a Danish study, adults who were active for 20 years were less likely to be hospitalized for alcohol abuse than their couch potato counterparts.

 

Image via iStock.com/CaroleGomez

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