For years, most substance abuse studies focused on men. In fact, in the earliest stages of addiction research, men were the only participants. Not only did this paint a particular stereotype of substance abuse, but it sometimes caused women to suffer from medical biases when seeking help. Addiction and women seemed to be two worlds apart and health professionals often struggled to reconcile them for treatment.
As more studies included female participants, it became apparent that there are some differences in women and men who struggle with substance use disorders.
Causes of Addiction
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, when it comes to opioid addiction and women, prescription drugs are often the first stop. Females sometimes begin by taking prescription pills for legitimate pain-related reasons, and other times the initial misuse begins in an attempt to self-medicate mental health issues. Some women then transition from this to other substances over time, like heroin. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to develop addictions because of peer pressure and the desire to belong to a certain group.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that men are more likely to begin their substance abuse journey at a younger age. This contributes to a discrepancy in prevalence between sexes, as only 6.4% of females over the age of 12 have a substance use disorder compared to 11.5% of males. In contrast, opioid use in particular actually tends to begin earlier in women than men. By age 17, more girls have misused stimulants and prescription opioids compared to boys in the same age group.
For several decades, men and women tended to follow this same pattern into adulthood. Men were more likely to become addicted to alcohol, while women were in favor of opioids and prescription medication. However, the gender gaps between both substance types have begun to narrow. The same is true of abusing stimulants, such as meth and cocaine.
When it comes to substance abuse and women, their biological makeup tends to work against them. Women tend to be of a smaller size and weight than men. Some researchers also believe that a woman’s hormones and general body chemistry make her succumb to the effects of drugs more so than men. Many would argue this plays a much bigger role in the higher risk of overdose than actually taking more drugs.
Here are some of the common side effects that women experience:
- Harsher physical effects on the cardiovascular system
- Increased risk of depression, anxiety and panic attacks
- High risk of stillbirth when using drugs while pregnant
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, female biology can also make recovery more of an uphill battle as health professionals believe they feel cravings more intensely. Men tend to experience withdrawal symptoms that are less intense and stabilize more quickly during the recovery process. While men do seem to have an upper hand when it comes to getting sober and staying sober, recovery is an attainable goal for everyone.
At Real Recovery, we are committed to helping our patients to achieve and retain a higher quality of living through sobriety. Contact us for more information about our men’s and women’s transitional residences today.