Women and Substance Use Disorders: What You Need to Know

Close your eyes and picture a drug addict. If you imagined a skinny man, shaking and hunkered down in some city alley, you’ve got the stereotypical image of an addict in your head. The truth is, however, that substance abuse disorders affect millions of people, men and women alike. Addiction does not discriminate, especially not with gender.

Addiction Affects Everyone
Women are just as likely to experience substance abuse disorders as men are. According to NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, 19.5 million adult women have used illicit drugs within the last year; that’s over 15% of the population.

Drugs Can Affect Women Differently
It may be surprising that this many women are experiencing substance use disorders, and that’s partially due to a lack of attention paid to women’s health by medical professionals in the past. New studies are showing key differences between the sexes when it comes to substance abuse. Drugs affect people physiologically, psychologically, and socially, so it’s no surprise that the physical, psychological, and social differences between men and women factor into substance abuse issues. For example, in general, women develop addiction more quickly than men do. Researchers believe this may be due to a general trend in which women are more heavily affected by smaller amounts of drugs than men are.

Social Pressures are Different for Women
Furthermore, social issues can make seeking recovery from drug addiction more difficult for women. Women are often in the traditional gender role of childcare provider or homemaker, making it difficult to seek treatment that would leave children without proper care; furthermore, when a caretaker becomes honest about illicit drug use, she risks legal consequences including losing her children. While not all women are mothers, there are certainly stigmas about drug use that affect many women differently than men. Women are also more likely to experience certain types of trauma that can catalyze drug use.

Women Do Recover From Substance Abuse
Despite facing unique challenges with substance abuse, studies show that women who engage in substance abuse treatment have equal or even better chances than their male counterparts of maintaining abstinence. If you or someone you know is seeking recovery, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline or find a 12-Step meeting near you.

 Jump to top