From Harvard Magazine:
When Shelly F. Greenfield joined the Harvard Medical School faculty in 1992, scientists were just beginning to document the fact that men and women become addicted to alcohol, and recover from that illness, differently—to recognize that “there may be gender-specific variables that affect health,” says the professor of psychiatry at McLean Hospital. During the last 15 years, scientists have documented notable gender differences in the physiological effects of alcohol—differences summed up in Women & Addiction, a 2009 volume co-edited by Greenfield, who has pioneered more effective treatment programs for women struggling with addiction to alcohol and other substances. Women initially metabolize only about a quarter as much alcohol in the stomach and intestines as men do (a fact not documented until 1990); consequently, more alcohol enters the bloodstream as ethanol. Women’s generally lower body mass, and lower body water content, also act to intensify alcohol’s effects.
Due at least partly to these physiological differences, the disease of alcohol dependence proceeds on a faster course in women, requiring medical treatment four years sooner, on average, than for male problem drinkers. Alcohol-addicted women are also quicker to develop cirrhosis, fatty liver, and cognitive impairment, and have a greater risk of dying in alcohol-related accidents than men do. These gender differences are not confined to humans: female rats become addicted to a wide range of substances, including alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines, more quickly than males.