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Women and Alcohol

Women are more vulnerable than men to alcohol, even after drinking smaller amounts. 12345 Overall, women are more likely to exhibit major health problems related to alcohol in a shorter period of time. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 View, download and print the following resources.

Women's Clinic Card (PDF)


Several factors make women more at risk to the effects of alcohol than men: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

  • On average, women have lower body weight than men which means it takes less alcohol to produce the same level of intoxication. 
  • Generally, women have less water and more adipose tissue (fat) than men. Since fatty tissue cannot absorb alcohol and water dilutes it, alcohol remains at a higher blood concentration for a longer period of time in a woman's body.
  • Women have less alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme in the liver and stomach that breaks down alcohol. Because of this, women have higher levels of alcohol in their bloodstream than men when drinking the same amount of alcohol. These biological differences can cause women to experience more damage and disease at lower levels of alcohol consumption than men.
  • Changing hormone levels affect how a woman metabolizes alcohol.

Risks of Alcohol Use for Women 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Above low levels of drinking alcohol, the lifetime risk of health harms increases more steeply for women than for men.

  • Breast Cancer
    Research has found that any amount of alcohol can increase the risk of breast cancer for women. Alcohol is also linked to cancers of the mouth, neck (pharynx, larynx, and esophagus), liver, and colon/bowels.
  • Liver Damage
    Females experience more liver damage at lower levels of alcohol intake, compared to males.
  • Heart Disease and Stroke
    Women are at increased risk for alcohol-related heart disease and stroke at lower levels of consumption and over fewer years of drinking than men.
  • Brain Damage 
    Alcohol affects female and male brains differently, with more negative impacts on females. In addition, research suggests that heavy alcohol use produces brain damage more quickly in women than in men.
  • Alcohol and Pregnancy

Learn more about how you can reduce your alcohol risks and Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health.

Date of creation: January 1, 2013
Last modified on: February 1, 2023




1Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. (2023). Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health: Final Report. Retrieved from Retrieved from
2Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. (2014). Women and alcohol summary. Retrieved from
3Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. (2022). Sex, gender and alcohol. Retrieved from
4National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2022). Women and alcohol. Retrieved from
5BC Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health. (2014). Women and alcohol. Retrieved from