Know… about women and alcohol

Although many of the harmful effects of alcohol are experienced by both men and women, research shows that women may be particularly vulnerable in the following areas:

Breast cancer

A global study of women’s drinking behaviour has found that alcohol could increase your risk of breast cancer. The more you drink, the greater the risk.

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women. In Northern Ireland, breast cancer in women has steadily increased from 774 cases in 1993 to 1,266 in 2011.

Scientists think the link between alcohol and breast cancer could be down to the effect alcohol has on our sex hormones. Drinking alcohol changes your body’s hormone levels, including the female sex hormone oestrogen. Oestrogen is essential for normal sexual development and the functioning of female reproductive organs. It also helps maintain healthy bones and a healthy heart. But this hormone can also increase the risk of breast cancer and is known to stimulate the growth of many breast cancers.

Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death among women. As far as the risk of getting breast cancer is concerned, the more you drink, the greater the risk. There are other risk factors, some of which we have no control over, but alcohol is one of the risk factors we can control.

For further information on cancer services in Northern Ireland, visit


Alcohol has a more severe effect on a woman’s liver than on a man’s.

As well as being unable to ‘break down’ alcohol as quickly as a man’s liver, a woman’s liver takes longer to repair itself when damaged. Regularly drinking more than the recommended guidelines can cause serious liver damage.

Liver disease is sometimes referred to as a ‘silent killer’. It takes years to fully develop and there are usually no symptoms until you reach the advanced stages, so people may have the disease for years without knowing it. By that stage, the damage has already been done.