The brain-damaging effects of alcohol strike women
more quickly than men, a new study conducted in Russia
Female alcoholics performed worse on a number of
tests of neurocognitive function compared with males,
Dr. Barbara Flannery from RTI International in Baltimore
and her colleagues found.
However, Flannery cautioned in an interview with
Reuters Health, the findings aren't good news for
alcohol-dependent men. "Women are vulnerable to the
extent to which they will experience the negative
consequences of alcohol abuse and alcoholism more
rapidly than men, but men will also experience it -- the
same kinds of effects," she said.
Other physiological effects of alcoholism, such as
heart and liver damage, are known to occur more quickly
in women than in men, a phenomenon known as
"telescoping," Flannery and her team note in the journal
Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
To determine whether the same occurs in the brain,
they had 78 alcoholic men and 24 alcoholic women,
between the ages of 18 and 40, complete a series of
brain function tests. Sixty-eight non-alcoholic men and
women also took part in the study as a control group.
The duration of alcohol use was significantly longer
for men than women, at about 15 and 11 years,
respectively, as was the duration of alcohol dependence,
at 8 and 5 years. A greater percentage of men were
college educated and employed full time. However,
reported binge drinking significantly more often than
men, at 91 percent vs. 72 percent.
Before completing the tests, all of the alcoholics
had been abstinent from alcohol for three to four weeks.
Compared with the alcoholic men, the researchers
found that alcoholic women performed worse on tests of
visual working memory, cognitive flexibility, and
spatial planning and problem solving.
Flannery pointed out that women metabolize alcohol
differently than men do. A woman will experience the
alcohol effects faster than a man of the same weight.
One reason is that men have more water in their bodies,
which better dilutes alcohol's effects. Women may also
have less of an enzyme that converts alcohol into an
"I think it's important that women understand this,"
she said, and it's also important to remember that
alcoholism is under-diagnosed in men and women. More
studies should be done in different populations, she
added, to confirm the results.
Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental
Research, May 2007.