Men are about 2 times more likely to start abusing all illicit drugs and eventually become dependent on them than women. But, there are unique challenges that are faced by women that become drug addicts. Biological differences between men and women as well as variations in gender in relation to social and environmental pressures are involved in women initiation into drug use, eventual dependence, and subsequent addiction.
Generally, women abuse drugs differently and they respond to the abused drugs differently. They also have unique challenges when it comes to seeking treatment for drug abuse and addiction. For example, a woman can progress faster through the drug abuse stages to eventual dependence and subsequent addiction than a man. What’s more, women are more susceptible to drug addiction and they can suffer more intense cravings. Relapse rates are also higher among women than in men.
A major reason why an addict may opt to enter a women’s rehabilitation center (navigate to this site) is sex and gender differences. Sex differences relate to biological variations. The sex hormones of a woman and menstrual cycle can change how her body responds to the abused drugs. For instance, drugs may have more intense physical effects on women’s blood vessels and heart. Women can also experience brain changes in a different way when compared to men. This can explain why women might use drugs in low doses and for a shorter period than men and eventually become dependent on the drug more quickly.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health report that NIDA published, almost 13% of women at the age of 18 years and above reported using an illicit drug the past year. Almost 6.5% of U.S women were battling addiction in 2008. Addiction is a disease that affects behavioral aspects and brain chemistry. It occurs when an individual becomes physically dependent on a substance that alters their brain and makes them unable to control its use.
Physical dependence tends to set in faster in women than in men. It’s also related to the changes in neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for learning, impulse control, reward processing, memory functions, and emotional regulation. That’s why women progress from drug use, to dependence, and eventual addiction faster than men.
Gender refers to culturally defined roles for sexes. It influences how an individual uses drugs and experiences addiction. Basically, women have different reasons for abusing drugs when compared to men. A woman is likely to abuse drugs trying to lose weight, control pain, self-medicate, or fight exhaustion.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, study shows that women and girls aged between 8 and 22 years are at a higher risk of abusing drugs due to depression, low self-esteem, and peer pressure. Women are likely to experience mental health issues and/or disorder with drug or substance abuse following a divorce, family member’s death, or losing child custody.
According to NIDA, one out of three women is subjected to physical violence which increases the risk of depression, weight concerns, chronic pain, and subsequent alcohol and drug abuse. Basically, rehab for women is mostly aimed at addressing issues like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders and anxiety more than rehab for men. These are the major factors that influence substance and drug use as well as addiction onset.
Addiction to Specific Drugs
Just like women abuse drugs and suffer addiction differently, they also use different drugs and at varying rates when compared to men. In most cases, women abuse prescription painkillers. Research shows that compared to men, women are likely to seek a prescription for pain relievers. They are also likely to get higher doses prescribed for them and for longer durations. This tends to increase the number of women that seek treatment for addiction to painkillers.
According to CBC News, heroin abuse is increasing in women. This is a highly opioid that activates brain’s pleasure centers while increasing dopamine levels. Using this drug leads to the quick setting in of the “high” effect which is more intense but short-lived.
Women tend to report insomnia, anxiety and depression issues more than men. As such, they seek mental healthcare more than men. This leads to more prescriptions for antidepressants, sleep aids, and anti-anxiety medication and at higher rates among women. Increased access to benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and barbiturates increase their risk of misuse among women. Increased misuse and abuse leads to addiction.
Solutions for Recovery
Addiction is becoming a deadly disease. According to CDC, an overdose of prescription drugs cause death of 42 women every day in the U.S. Overdose is more likely to cause death among women than men. As such, women’s rehab centers should focus on providing gender-specific treatment for women. This treatment should be aimed at removing social and environmental pressures that lead to addiction and prevent successful healing.
It’s important to note that women that need treatment for substance and drug addiction do not get it due to:
- Fear of being separated from or losing their families.
- Viewing substance or drug abuse as a habit or social activity instead of as an addiction that disrupts their lives.
- Believing that substance or drug abuse is due to depression or anxiety thereby treating a mental health problem and ignoring addiction.
- Embarrassment or fear of admitting that they are battling addiction and hiding alcohol or drug abuse from friends and family.
Women tend to open up in the support group and group counseling sessions than men as long as there are no opposite sex members in the meetings. It’s therefore important to have rehab centers for women only to enhance recovery. Since women abuse alcohol and drugs for reasons that differ from those of men, behavioral therapy for women should cater to pressures and issues that are unique to them. Additionally, women can have co-occurring mental health issues while battling addiction. These should also be addressed comprehensively by the addiction treatment and recovery programs for women.
In a nutshell, women experiences and needs are different from those of men when it comes to addiction and recovery. Women’s rehab should, therefore, offer specialized care that fosters their long-term recovery.
About the Author
Thanush Poulsen is a Danish blogger reviewing health issues. The main focus of his works is public health and various factors which affect it.