Most clinical research on substance addiction shows how men and women get addicted to substances differently.
Note that the keyword in the above sentence is “differently.”
Inherently, both sexes struggle with addiction – just in markedly different ways.
The stigma surrounding addiction and substance abuse is rife, even in today’s culture, where we tend to discuss mental health issues more openly than in previous years.
Drug and alcohol addiction
Male issues around addiction, particularly to substances like drugs and alcohol, have been discussed at length, whereas women are more likely to remain silent about their addiction struggles.
However, that doesn’t make drug addiction and alcoholism less prevalent for women.
The struggle is present, but the stigma is much more so.
Unfortunately, the above can affect how different genders cope with substance use disorders and prevent them from engaging in substance abuse treatment.
Large swaths of literature on substance abuse and gender differences also illustrate the marked differences in treatment outcomes for men and women.
Namely, men are more likely to seek treatment for substance use disorders than their female counterparts.
Gender differences in substance abuse
Various factors lead someone down the path of addiction.
For decades, researchers have examined the many internal and external factors that determine whether a person will become addicted.
And while the above is true, there is little understanding and awareness of the gender differences in addiction within the research community.
Males and females
You might be surprised to learn that most of the research subjects in the studies on substance use in the past were men.
This gender bias has profoundly impacted addiction treatment, specifically when understanding the issues women face around recovery and treatment.
Understanding sex and gender differences
Fortunately, women have gotten asked to participate more in substance use disorder studies in recent years.
The above is encouraging – since understanding the sex and gender differences in addiction is imperative to finding the right treatment program.
Sex differences and substance abuse rates
Historically, men have been known to struggle with a substance use disorder more than women.
However, researchers have explored the efficacy of such statistics and discovered a body of evidence that portrays a growing equalisation between addicted men and women.
Differences in addiction
It is known that men and women struggle with substance use disorders differently within the addiction community.
Studies in the 1980s show that the gender ratio of alcohol dependence was estimated at 5:1, with men being the most addicted.
However, recent studies on the gender differences in substance use show an entirely different reality.
In recent years, the ratio of addiction between men and women has changed considerably and has an approximate rate of around 3:1.
Alcohol and drug use statistics
Although the equalisation between men and women with substance use disorders is growing, men still struggle with substance abuse in more significant numbers.
Studies from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions show that men are 2.2 times more likely to suffer from drug abuse than women.
Further studies from the same sample show that men are 1.9 times more likely to develop a drug addiction.
Substance use disorders among women
While the statistics on male substance use disorders are higher than women, males and females engage in various substances in significantly different ways and for many reasons.
The above can affect both genders’ experiences with addiction and recovery.
Research shows some of the differences in male and female addiction.
For example, women tend to drink more to alleviate stress or manage difficult emotions.
On the other hand, men drink to enhance positive emotions and reinforce social relationships and bonds.
Furthermore, literature shows that women who abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely than men to have other mental health issues with their alcohol use disorder.
The above demonstrates an increasing need for a proper dual diagnosis treatment for people struggling with substance abuse and addiction.
Drugs or alcohol abuse and co-occurring disorders
Concurrent disorders can co-occur with substance use.
For example, a person may abuse drugs and be diagnosed with depression or borderline personality disorder.
Such disorders occur together and require a dual diagnosis treatment where treatment involves addressing both conditions simultaneously.
Another worrying factor is that women are less likely to seek substance abuse treatment than men.
Stimulants, often called ”uppers”, are substances that increase a person’s energy levels and alertness.
Popular stimulants that drug abusers use frequently are cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription medicines used to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Gender and addiction
Data suggests that illicit drug rates, mainly stimulant abuse, are similar for men and women.
Statistics showed that approximately 1.9 million people reported engaging in methamphetamine drug use in 2011.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the literature was the research conducted on pregnant women who have been increasing victims of methamphetamine addiction.
For example, a study conducted in 1994 showed that 8% of women admitted to addiction treatment programs for illicit drugs, namely methamphetamine, were pregnant.
The above figure rose to 24% in 2006.
Why is this?
Researchers reported that hormonal differences in women might make them more susceptible to methamphetamine addictions than men.
For example, oestrogen has been proven to increase the effects of certain drugs.
For instance, when women engage in cocaine abuse, they report chemical changes in the body, such as an increased heart rate and often report feeling more ”high” than men taking the same substance.
Gender and addiction appear to be different in marijuana use, too.
For instance, men are twice as likely to smoke marijuana and become daily users of the drug compared to women.
Cannabis use is a prevalent issue in the United States, with over 43.5 million people using the drug regularly.
Gender-specific issues related to cannabis use
Some research on gender differences and cannabis use showed varying results and outcomes.
Women compared to men.
For instance, men addicted to cannabis are more likely to develop externalising disorders, which involve directing socially unacceptable emotions at society or the environment.
On the other hand, women cannabis users are more likely to suffer internalising disorders, such as anxiety, depression or mood disorders.
Gender differences and how they affect treatment outcomes
The pathways to addiction are significantly different between men and women.
If such biological differences exist, the treatment outcomes for men and women are likely to follow the same path in addiction recovery.
Gender influences in drug treatment
One body of research showed that the ratio of men to women in addiction treatment programs was about 2:1.
Another shocking statistic is that men are more likely to enter addiction treatment programs than women.
Researchers have identified common pathways regarding why men are more likely to seek help for illicit drug use and alcohol dependence.
One principal reason is that men are more likely to be referred to substance abuse treatment programs through the criminal justice system.
On the other hand, women are more likely to be referred to addiction treatment programs through healthcare providers or welfare support.
Cultural and social factors affecting recovery
Women are more likely to be confronted with cultural and social factors that affect their recovery than their male counterparts.
Such factors can worsen addiction and make it less likely for women to seek substance abuse treatment.
Various factors impact a woman’s recovery from addiction.
Shame and guilt
For example, women tend to experience more shame and guilt over having an addiction than men.
Additionally, women often face more significant stigma than men, mainly when seeking substance abuse treatment.
Substance abuse in females has a more significant stigma attached, where women often get viewed as selfish.
Inherently, the women’s role in the family often gets based on morality; such qualities are central to keeping the family together and ensuring that ”all is well.”
Women get pressured to keep everything together.
Thus, admitting to addiction and needing support and help often gets viewed as a red flag that the woman might be harming the family and, therefore, must feel shame.
Another factor that may prevent women from seeking addiction treatment is its burden on the family – and perhaps, the rest of society.
The old-fashioned view that ”a woman’s place is in the home” and not in addiction rehab facilities often rears its ugly head, even in today’s ”woke” culture.
Substance abuse treatment
Another critical factor the researchers noted is that most addiction treatment programs have been standardised for men.
Although women who engage in substance abuse treatment programs can experience long-lasting success, there are specific needs that, if acknowledged, would enhance their chances of recovery.
Such factors include:
- Supportive therapies
- Family and childcare support
- Sexual healthcare support
White River Manor
We treat various addictions and mental health disorders at White River Manor, including alcohol, drug, and behavioural addictions.
We understand the diverse pathways to addiction and specialise in dual-diagnosis treatment that seeks to address the addiction and the root cause.
Recovery is possible with proper treatment and support; contact our specialist team today to find out more.