Alcohol Use and Older Adults

Frequently Asked Questions

8. Does alcohol affect men and women differently?

Yes, alcohol affects men and women differently. In general, older men are more likely to drink alcohol compared with older women. According to a British government study, men account for about 66 percent of people who drink weekly, while women account for only about 44 percent. But women of all ages are affected more easily than men by the alcohol consumed. Also, women have less water in their bodies than men, so alcohol is more concentrated in the smaller water volume. As a result, women may become more impaired than men after drinking the same amount.

Drinking for a long time is more likely to damage a woman’s health than a man’s health. Research suggests that as little as one drink per day can slightly raise the risk of breast cancers in some women, especially those who have been through menopause or have a family history of cancer. But it is not possible to predict how alcohol will affect the risk for cancer in any one woman.

In addition, although light to moderate drinking has not been shown to increase the risk for developing liver cancer, exceeding these levels increases the risk for both men and women. On average, studies have demonstrated an increased risk of 19 percent per 10 grams of alcohol per day for women, compared to only 3 percent for men.

Healthy men and women over age 65 should not drink more than three drinks a day, or a total of seven drinks a week. Drinking more than these amounts puts people at risk of serious alcohol problems. However, people can still have problems within these limits. Depending on their health and how alcohol affects them, older adults may need to drink less than these limits or not at all.

Learn more about how alcohol affects women.