The brain-damaging effects of alcohol strike women more quickly than men, a new study conducted in Russia confirms.
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, women 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 inactive substance.
"I think it's important that women understand this," she said, and it's also important to remember that alcoholism is underdiagnosed in men and women. More studies should be done in different populations, she added, to confirm the results.
source: Anne Harding, Reuters