Women are more likely to become addicted to certain types of drugs and experience different biological effects. They may also experience different barriers to seeking treatment than men. Since gender plays a different role for them in substance abuse, women may feel more comfortable seeking a gender-specific treatment program.
Gender Differences and Substance Abuse
- Men and women are equally at risk for becoming addicted. However, when women consume addictive substances, they tend to move from being a casual user to a dependent user more quickly. This is called telescoping.
- Women may find it more difficult to quit using addictive substances.
- Women may also be at higher risk for relapse.
- Women and Alcohol Abuse.
The results of the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) revealed that the vast majority of Americans (86.4 percent) over the age of
- 18 had tried alcohol at least once during their lifetime.
- 70.1 percent drank during the past 12 months
- 56.0 percent drank during the past month
When a woman drinks alcohol, she is more vulnerable to its effects than a man. She naturally carries more body fat, which retains alcohol. A woman’s body also contains less water to dilute alcohol content. As a result, her organs will be exposed to alcohol to a greater degree
Women and Opiate Abuse.
Since women are more likely than men to have chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia, more prescriptions are written for them for opioid pain medications. They’re also more likely to go to the emergency room for opioid abuse.
Women and Stimulants.
Women and men use stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines at about the same rate, although women report starting to use cocaine earlier than men. Research has indicated that women become dependent on stimulants more quickly than men and are more likely to relapse after quitting.
Women and Nicotine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 15 percent of US adults smoke (2015). This figure adds up to approximately 36.5 million people.
The health risks of smoking are well known. Research has shown that smoking reduces life expectancy by more than 10 years compared to people who have never put a cigarette to their lips.
Quitting smoking can be difficult for women due to concerns about gaining weight if they give up the habit. A doctor may suggest a low-fat diet and boosting physical activity when quitting, but this may not be practical in all instances. For best results, a woman who wants to quit smoking should find a way to focus on the improved health benefits she will gain.
Research studies have shown that hormone levels influence success rates for women who wish to quit smoking. If the quit date is timed to start shortly after a woman’s menstrual period ends and before ovulation, she is more likely to abstain from cigarette smoking. Women who quit smoking after ovulation in the days leading up to their menstrual period find it more challenging to stay away from cigarettes.
Researchers theorize that higher estrogen levels during the early stage of the menstrual cycle improve mood and decrease anxiety, making it easier for a woman to cope with the challenges associated with the early stages of smoking cessation.
Barriers to Women Seeking Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Women are more likely than men to report that they experience barriers when either seeking out or following through with a drug or alcohol treatment program.
- Economic Factors. Affordability is a major factor keeping women from getting help for drug and alcohol addiction. A number of women report they don’t have the financial means to take time away from work to focus on recovery.
- Family Responsibilities. Women also report having to care for their children and/or other family members as a barrier to getting addiction treatment. They may have difficulty making arrangements to have someone care for their children. Some women may have concerns about losing custody of their children if they seek treatment for drug or alcohol addiction.
- Stigmas About Seeking Help for Addiction. It can be challenging for some women to seek help for addiction, especially in cases which include instances of trauma or abuse. A woman may feel a sense of shame on anxiety about going to treatment if she doesn’t feel ready to address underlying issues surrounding her addiction.
Gender-Specific Treatment for Women
Traditionally, addiction treatment models were based on men’s needs and may not work well for women, who often wish to discuss relationships with family members and friends as relates to their drug and alcohol use. Women who have experienced trauma and violence, especially sexual violence, more than likely feel more comfortable discussing these issues in a group therapy session comprised of women only. A gender specific treatment program for women gives them the opportunity to develop trust with their therapists and other clients and feel comfortable getting to the root of their addiction.
English Mountain Recovery offers gender-specific recovery programs for female clients. It’s a safe environment where the focus is on healing.
By Jodee Redmond