Women are more likely than men to become binge drinkers because the female hormone oestrogen gives them a bigger buzz from alcohol
- High oestrogen levels cause the brain to release dopamine – the feelgood factor
- Scientists said this could encourage women to drink more, leading to a habit
- Woman are considered binge drinkers if they have more than four in two hours
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Women are more likely than men to become binge drinkers because they get a greater buzz from alcohol, a study has found.
When oestrogen levels are high, a woman’s body responds to drink by releasing the hormone dopamine – which triggers a sense of reward in the brain.
This, in turn, leads to more drinking to repeat the effect, scientists said, putting women at greater risk of spiralling into alcoholism and suffering the related harms such as cancer, liver damage and heart disease.
A woman is considered a binge drinker if she consumes more than four drinks in two hours, the study said, while a man is considered a binge drinker if he consumes five drinks in the same amount of time.
When oestrogen levels are high, a woman’s body responds to alcohol by releasing the brain’s reward hormone dopamine, a study has said (stock)
The study, published in the journal of Neuroscience, revealed female mice found alcohol more rewarding than their male counterparts.
However, when their oestrogen receptors were reduced due to blocked receptors, their feelgood response was also reduced.
Psychiatrist at the University of Illinois Amy Lasek, who conducted the study, said the results reveal oestrogen makes women more vulnerable to addictive substances such as alcohol.
‘Women more rapidly transition from problematic alcohol drinking to having an alcohol use disorder and to suffer from the negative health effects of alcohol, such as increased cancer risk, liver damage, heart disease, and brain damage,’ she told science website Inverse.
‘If alcohol drinking is higher during times when oestrogen levels are elevated, this can contribute to both the health risks of alcohol drinking and increase the likelihood of developing severe alcohol drinking problems.’
Scientists found this effect in lab mice. However, if oestrogen receptors were blocked in female mice then their response to alcohol was reduced. (stock)
Oestrogen levels tick up in the menstrual cycle before ovulation, when they cause the uterus lining to thicken, and then drop back to normal levels. They also rise slightly a few days after ovulation.
The hormone is also present in men, but in lower levels that do not fluctuate.
The research suggests a drug which blocks oestrogen receptors, such as one used for fighting breast cancer, may help beat alcoholism in women.