Female addict smoking marijuana ipe

Women and Addiction: All WHYs and HOWs

When it comes to various addictions (drugs, alcohol, tobacco), one usually pictures a male who abuses substances or alcohol. Even if this stereotype is statistically based, it is necessary to look at addictions from a female’s perspective separately.

The problem of addiction concerns all genders. However, until recently, research focused attention on males as those who are more likely to use substances and alcohol. Understanding reasons of drug abuse for people of different genders can help elaborate efficient policies in this field of social work.

Women and Addiction

Why women use drugs

Same as men, women who use drugs suffer from social disapproval, economic problems, and loss of trust of their relatives. In contrast to male individuals, women can experience additional circumstances during addiction, such as pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. That is why the question of drug abuse, including alcohol abuse, should be gender-sensitive. It is also important to create more recovery centers for women (read more here).

When it comes to reasons why one could start using drugs, they are very individual and depend a lot on the context rather than one’s sex. Most drugs are used occasionally, for sleep, for relaxation or in case of depression and anxiety both by men and women. However, there are some differences: until very recently, this occasional consumption could take a form of sociability for men. They could smoke a joint between friends or colleagues, for example. At the same time, women had more guilt to consume drugs and did it secretly, alone. Today, the situation has changed. Female individuals tend to feel more freedom when it comes to their personal choices, though pregnant women or young mothers continue to be stigmatized if they consume illegal substances or alcohol.

As for regular drug users, main reasons involve the psychological state of a person. It is suggested by some research that women are more sensitive to the rewarding and stimulating effect of drugs. That is why many drug users claim that stimulant substances (amphetamines, cocaine) help them while dealing with day-to-day responsibilities, both at the workplace and at home since they are very energy consuming.

Another reason inherent to females is eating disorder. The desire to lose weight is named to be one of the reasons why teenage girls try narcotic substances. Researchers found that, among drug users, there are more people with eating disorders (bulimia and others) than physical or sexual abuse victims.

It is also worth mentioning that the social environment plays a vital role for female substance and alcohol users. Some women report that pressure of society or their sexual partners make them try narcotic substances or drink alcohol. Also, traumatic life events, especially during childhood, may induce a female person to use drugs. In this way, there is a need not only in drug rehab centers for women but also shelters for victims of any kind of abuse.

The desire to alleviate pain is among the causes of drug abuse in women. Some researchers claim that female individuals are more sensitive to pain than males, as well as to chronic pain. That is why persons tend to use opioids or other painkillers, often without a prescription.

Women who admit to binge drinking can have the same reasons listed above. In the case of alcohol abuse, the consequences can be more dangerous for women than for men. This is because the process of metabolism is different for male and female bodies. Thus, girls have a higher concentration of ethanol in blood than boys if they consume the same amount of alcohol.

It is proved that, no matter the reasons, women are just as likely as men to develop an illicit substance or alcohol addiction.

Woman's hand pills

How to prevent addiction

The global problem of various addictions requires a multilateral approach. Such problems of female persons as domestic violence, social pressure, and stigma should be considered by health and social services, as well as jurisdictions.

It is important to understand the causes of substances and alcohol abuse in order to prevent them. Drug and alcohol abuse is often a means of coping with a traumatic experience: sexual assault, physical abuse, increased stress level. From that follows that timely and pervasive psychotherapy can prevent both substance and alcohol addictions. Ongoing support, as opposed to discrimination and stigma, could also help women in preventing harmful addictions. Raising awareness campaigns about drugs and addiction treatment can also be useful.

Addiction treatment

As a rule, treatment programs tend to have a positive outcome for former drug and alcohol users. The problem is that more than 50% of patients do not complete their treatment. In such a way, the social environment of an addicted person should be encouraging. A women’s recovery center should provide a friendly and supportive approach so that women feel safe and less susceptible to jump off.

Pieces of research that would point out the best addiction treatment plan for women are few. However, it is claimed that co-occurring psychological disorders are able to complicate the treatment process, irrespective of gender. Again, lack of social support may play a crucial role in a treatment outcome.

How to prevent relapse

Women are proved to be more susceptible to experience relapses. The risk of relapse can be predicted and prevented in some circumstances. Special attention should be attached to a former abuser if a patient has co-morbid psychiatric disorders.

Parenting can be a strong motivator for a female person to complete a treatment process. Thus, rehab for women should include child care services too. Regarding a woman’s partner, he or she can play a decisive role in relapse. It is crucial that a female stays in a physical and emotional safety even after successful treatment.

The bottom line

There is still a lack of information on the topic of women and addiction. It is essential that the justice sector, health care services, and rehabs include the gender aspect in their programs. Such factors as discouraging social environment, shame, stigma often prevent women from giving up bad habits as compared to the men’s experience. Individual issues and needs should be considered while dealing with addiction-related problems.

About the Author

Thanush Poulsen is a Danish health blogger. Being deeply concerned about public health, Thanush investigates the problem of drug addiction in contemporary society. His primary focus is on increasing people’s awareness of the available treatment options and proactive measures to prevent drug use for the first time as well as relapse.


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