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Addiction and Women: Improving Treatment Options

Looking at addiction with a lens focused on the differences between genders makes the disease much more complex. The minimal past research about how addiction affects women is outdated, and new statistics call for a better understanding of the discrepancies between men and women as it pertains to developing and treating substance use disorder.

FACT: Women currently comprise the fastest-growing segment of drug users in the US.

Are men more likely to become addicted than women?

Men were, at one time, more likely to become addicted than women. Recently however, this trend has begun to change and the margin between addiction rates of men and women is quickly closing. Men tend to begin substance use at younger ages than women, but both genders are equally likely to continue use after their introduction.

FACT: About 200,000 women die each year due to substance use.

Women are twice as likely to struggle with anxiety and depression as men, and they are also more likely to be affected by trauma from various forms of abuse like physical, emotional, and sexual, placing them at high risk of developing PTSD. They may use substances to self-medicate to cope with these situations. Women also suffer from chronic painful conditions more often and require more pain-relieving medication than men, opening the gateway for prescription misuse.

FACT: Roughly 4.5 million women in the US have substance use disorder.

Does substance use disorder affect men and women the same way?

Women tend to become addicted to substances faster than men, and they experience a shorter time frame between their first use to psychological and chemical dependency. Most women face more significant medical and psychological difficulties by the time they enter treatment, although they will have usually used much less of a substance and for a shorter period of time than men.

FACT: 3.5 million women misuse prescription medication, while 3.1 million misuse illicit substances.

Men and women respond to addiction triggers differently, especially stress. Women are impacted more harshly by stress, and their drug-related cues react to it with drug cravings while men’s brains respond more to drug-related clues with cravings. Women also tend to suffer more social stigma for their addiction than men because they are seen as caretakers and mothers. The shame that stems from these gender roles also prevents women from seeking treatment more often than men.

FACT: 25% of pregnant women with opioid use disorder go untreated due to stigma.

Who relapses more often?

Although women face more barriers than men when seeking treatment due to responsibilities, finances, and stigma, they are still relapsing at a lower rate than men despite being more susceptible to cravings. Even though many women in treatment are less likely to receive the specialized care they need and are admitted in rates far lower than men, they are usually more willing to be communicative about needing help and seek out their support system.

FACT: Women make up only about 33% of treatment admissions.

By including women in more addiction research, experts will also have a broader range of data to work with, which was previously dominated by male statistics. Understanding the way gender impacts addiction can be vital to creating more specialized treatment programs that hone in on the critical needs of both men and women. For more information, contact us today!


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