Although drug addiction affects both men and women, research indicates that the experience varies depending on gender. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) says biological differences, as well as environmental and societal factors, affect the causes of addiction, the behavior of the addict, and which treatments are most effective.
Women have certain risk factors that men typically do not have. Men tend to experiment more freely with drugs than women. Regardless of gender, however, treating each addict as an individual helps identify the needs of each person.
Addiction is Deeper for Men, Quicker for Women
Men are more experimental with illicit drugs than women. While addiction may become much more severe in men, women tend to become addicted more easily. That is according to the NIH article, Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use.
Perhaps because of the combination of prevalence and severity of drug addiction in males, men are also more likely to experience an overdose and require emergency medical care.
Women are more likely to abuse certain drugs and suffer a relapse in treatment or recovery, but these findings depend on the drug in question. For example, women are more likely to report using alcohol and start using more stimulants at a younger age than men. Men are more likely to use marijuana and heroin and in larger quantities.
Women are also more likely to use prescription painkillers. Those numbers go up with age, says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA).
Women Often Have Special Risk Factors and Challenges
One of the most unsettling facts about women and addiction is the link with certain risk factors. According to NIH, addicted women of color are much more likely to be the victims of rape, stalking, and physical violence. Those issues not only contribute to the likelihood and severity of addiction but also help shape unique treatment needs.
Women also tend to succumb to pressure from a partner to inject drugs and use more than they would without that influence.
According to the NIH publication, Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (3rd Edition), gender influences likelihood of many different internal and external issues that women face, such as:
- Risky sexual behavior
- Violence and abuse
- Pressure from a drug-using partner to try more and different drugs
- Treatment avoidance or leaving early due to childcare responsibilities
- Panic attacks
For men, past issues and obstacles might include these and many others:
- Work- and school-related stress
- Peer pressure
- Although men may struggle with a stronger addiction, they are also more likely to seek help. Either gender may suffer from PTSD, which is a known risk factor for drug addiction.
Gender Helps Tailor an Effective Drug Abuse Treatment Program
Most treatment programs have a few things in common, whether they are designed for a woman or a man. Those elements are the framework, not the whole. Just as no two people are the same, there is no single path to recovery.
Gender is an important part of a customized treatment program, but that is still only part of the equation. Women are more likely than men to abuse stimulants for weight control, but that does not mean men are immune. There is a higher rate of abuse and peer pressure in women, but men can suffer the same.
By working one-on-one with the addict, all of the critical points can eventually be uncovered. That is when a customized plan that helps the whole person takes shape.
Drug treatment works best when it considers the whole person. In a professional, caring environment, men and women with any type of background can find the help that they need to make addiction part of the past and recovery part of the future.
If you or someone you care about is suffering from an addiction, contact us today and learn about the many ways we can help.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.