Why Are Women More Vulnerable to the Effects of Wine than Men?

Wine is a natural product that produces unique effects on the human body. It is a proven scientific fact that women are more vulnerable to the effects of wine than men.

Scientific American published an interesting analysis conducted by Neville McNaughton (MD) to analyze why women are almost twice as vulnerable to the effects of wine as men. The analysis showed that both genders have different sensitivity to alcohol.

Although, on an empty stomach, both digest alcohol at about the same rate, around one unit per hour or about 0.06g/kg per dose. The reason for the sensitivity difference between women and men lies in a woman’s protection system against the damage to the fetus during pregnancy.

The analysis further showed that alcohol has different effects on women, and this difference is manifested in the way wine is absorbed in their bodies.[1]  Women’s bodies absorb a larger quantity of alcohol compared to men when consuming the same amount. It’s because they have less water in their bodies, which leads to alcohol being absorbed more quickly.[2] It is argued that women have about 10 percent less body water than men do.

This means that any alcohol consumed will pass through the body at a much faster rate and leave the bloodstream quicker, making it more likely for women to feel the effects of drinking wine. Finally, the study showed that the difference in the effects between the sexes is not just physical either; there are also some physiological differences that play into how quickly women become drunk as compared to men.

effects of wine

Women’s wine party by Kelsey Chance

In another study, it was suggested that women’s bodies produce a lower quantity of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). This enzyme helps break down alcohol molecules into acetic acid, which can be easily expelled from the human body through urine or sweat. Men produce more ADH than women do and therefore break down a larger number of alcohol molecules than women do causing less effect on them.

Alcohol Digestive Enzymes in Wine

The process of alcohol metabolism in the human body has many steps, with genetic differences affecting the rate of each step. Among the metabolism steps, one step is the conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde (ALDH) by an ADH enzyme. ADH is encoded by two genes: one on chromosome 4 and another on chromosome 15.

The gene on chromosome 4 produces more active ADH, resulting in a faster conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde (ALDH). That build-up of ALDH causes facial flushing and other symptoms of nerve damage, such as pain, a tingling feeling in the arms and legs, and nausea, even when someone drinks only small amounts.

Men have more ADH than women do as described earlier—which means they produce more acetaldehyde from processing wine than women. And because ALDH isn’t as effective at breaking down acetaldehyde, men are more likely to experience negative side effects from consuming too much wine compared to women.

Wine Metabolism

Medical studies suggest that women and men have different wine metabolisms due to their physical and hormonal differences.

First, women have more body fat than men, which means that alcohol is absorbed more slowly into their bloodstreams.

Second, women have different wine tolerance, and generally, they do not drink as much as men—and when they do drink, it is typically in smaller volume and less frequent. The larger a person drinks over the course of a lifetime, and the more often that person consumes wine, the greater their tolerance for alcohol will be.

Third, women also metabolize alcohol differently from men because they have less dehydrogenase—the enzyme responsible for breaking down ethanol into acetaldehyde (the substance responsible for making you feel drunk after you’ve had one too many).

Fourth, the female menstrual cycle may also play a role in why women get hungover faster: fluctuating hormone levels can affect how quickly or slowly our bodies process booze. Finally (and most importantly), women break down alcohol through their liver while men can break it down in their stomachs instead.

Drinking Quantity

Generally, women who drink wine on occasion know that it can be an enjoyable experience if done in moderation. However, many studies have found that women are more likely to experience negative effects from wine than men. The reason for the impacts may be that they drink less frequently and in smaller quantities.

Did You Know: One study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that men consume nearly 20 percent more alcohol than women do each week. Additionally, it suggested that men also tend to drink heavier and more often than women—especially when it comes to beer-drinking occasions like watching sports or hanging out with friends at bars.

Furthermore, women are also more likely than men to opt for wine over beer when they choose alcoholic beverages; while this could just be a personal preference (and not a scientific fact), there could also be some cultural reasons behind this decision: In many parts of the world (including America), drinking wine is considered “classy” while drinking beer is seen as “uncouth” or “low class.”[3]

Menstrual Cycle

Medical studies suggest that women are more sensitive to alcohol during their period; if a woman gets drunk on the first day of her period, she may feel even worse than usual the next day.

Her blood alcohol content will be higher because it takes longer for the body to process the chemicals in the wine. This means that the drunken state will be longer than usual, even if she had just one glass of wine or beer.

Additionally, alcohol can affect her sleep quality and moods. Alcohol has a direct impact on how well we sleep—even after just one drink. It can also affect our moods by affecting hormone levels in our bodies (and therefore making us feel either more confident or anxious). If this happens right before bedtime, then it could also make it harder to get back to sleep once one wakes up again during the night.

Body Fat

Women have lower levels of ethanol-oxidizing enzymes than men, and therefore, they absorb more alcohol molecules than men through their stomach lining. The molecules are added into their bloodstream (which is why they get drunk faster).

The bottom line is that women’s bodies absorb alcohol at a different rate because of their biological differences from men.

  • Women have more body fat, which affects their ability to absorb the wine.
  • Women who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for experiencing worse hangovers.

Water Percentage in the Body

Wines contain ethyl alcohol which makes them intoxicating. Ethyl alcohol distributes quickly in the body – more quickly than water. Scientific studies show that men generally have a higher percentage of body water than women. Therefore, for women, it takes less time for the alcohol content to reach the brain; hence they become intoxicated quicker.

Enzyme Cyp2e1

Women get drunk faster than men because they have a lower amount of the enzyme CYP2E1 in their bodies. The enzyme helps to break down the alcohol molecules. This means that it takes less time for a woman’s body to absorb the same amount of alcohol as it does for a man’s body.

Physiological Factors

There are a number of physiological factors that make women more vulnerable than men to the effects of alcohol. These factors include:

1) Women have less body water than men (which is one reason why it’s important for women to drink in moderation).

2) Women metabolize alcohol at a lower rate than men because on average, women have less dehydrogenase, an enzyme involved in the metabolism of alcohol.

3) Women have generally lower body mass index than men and have fewer muscles, which helps to minimize any intoxication effect.

4) Women have higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, which can cause dilation of peripheral blood vessels, which results in more rapid absorption of alcohol into their bloodstream.[4]

This Day in Our Wine History

April 1993: The American Wine Society established American Wine Appreciation Week to recognize women winemakers and the valuable contributions they have made to the wine industry. The inaugural event was celebrated during April 22–28. In 2001, American Wine Society members voted to change this week of celebration into International Women’s Wine Day, observed annually on March 8.

June 27, 1940: On this day, Ann B. Matasar was born. She traces the history of women in the global wine industry, from its beginnings when women were vintners and winemakers, to today’s role as winery owners, managers, marketers, and distributors.

After an initial survey of early works on women in wine and a more serious look at the recent emergence of prominent women leaders in the field-including replicating their success-the author draws specific practical lessons that any wine professional can apply to his or her work. This seminal book is a wine lover’s must-read for anyone interested in this subject.

November 28, 1956: Theodore Garland was born. According to this latest research male rats had tolerance levels 40% lower than females. The scientists believe this difference occurs due to higher levels of blood-thinning enzymes in the female rats’ bodies which results in a faster breakdown. See more resources here

Want to read more? Try out these books!

Wine Simple- A Totally Approachable Guide from a World-Class Sommelier Vino- The Essential Guide to Real Italian Wine


[1] “Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol’s Effects?-Alcohol Alert No. 46-1999.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa46.htm. Accessed 11 May 2022.

[2] “Are Women More Vulnerable To Alcohol’s Effects?-Alcohol Alert No. 46-1999”. Pubs.Niaaa.Nih.Gov, 2022, .

[3] “Alcohol Affects Women Differently Than Men · Jay C. Tyroler, MD, PC”. Jay C. Tyroler, MD, PC, 2022, https://tyrolermd.com/alcohol-affects-women-differently-than-men/.

[4] “Ask The Doctor: Why Does Alcohol Affect Women Differently? – Harvard Health”. Harvard Health, 2022, https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/why-does-alcohol-affect-women-differently.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!