The gender gap in substance use disorders (SUDs) is narrowing, with women now comprising a more significant proportion of those affected than in the past. Women are more likely to escalate from initial use to dependence, and they also tend to have poorer treatment outcomes.
Gender differences in social factors such as stress exposure and coping mechanisms may play a role in these disparities. Ultimately, this knowledge can be used to develop more tailored prevention and treatment approaches for women.
The Phenomena of “Telescoping”
Recent research also indicates that gender can affect individuals’ response to drugs as well as their likelihood of becoming addicted. Although males tend to abuse drugs at an earlier age and more frequently than females, females tend to become addicted more quickly once they are introduced to drugs — a phenomenon known as “telescoping.”
Women also tend to relapse at higher rates than men after going through rehab. As a result, they suffer from more severe consequences to their health, jobs, relationships, and finances.
There are several possible explanations for this difference: women may be more likely to start using drugs because of trauma or stress. In addition, they may be more likely to develop co-occurring mental health disorders that make addiction harder to treat.
Additionally, women may face unique barriers to seeking treatment, such as stigma, child care responsibilities, and lack of access to resources. As a result, women with SUDs often face more significant challenges than their male counterparts.
Women with SUDs tend to more frequently deviate from the norms of society, live in environments characterized by a high risk of violence and abuse, and be survivors of childhood trauma. With women comprising an increasingly large proportion of the addicted population, it is vital to understand and address these challenges.
Women Use Different Drugs
There is no question that addiction is devastating for both men and women. Yet studies have shown that males and females tend to be drawn to different drugs and that addiction affects them differently.
According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), women are more likely to abuse prescription drugs, while men are more likely to abuse illegal drugs. Women are also more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol, while men are more prone to multi-drug use.
Women are more likely than men to be prescribed certain types of drugs, such as painkillers, tranquilizers, and sedatives. They are also more likely to be prescribed higher doses of these drugs.
In addition, women metabolize drugs differently than men, leading to quicker development of tolerance and dependence. Women are also more likely than men to suffer from certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, which can increase the risk of substance use disorders.
Women and Opioids
The nonmedical use of prescription drugs is a growing problem among women in the United States. Although more men still abuse these drugs overall, the gap between the genders is narrowing, particularly among younger age groups.
According to CDC, opioid overdose deaths have increased by 400 percent among women since 1999, while they have increased by only 265 percent among men. This trend is disturbingly mirrored in the increase of fatal overdoses among women compared to men; from 1999 to 2010, the number of women dying from opioid overdoses increased by five times. In comparison, the number of men dying from opioid overdose overdoses tripled.
The CDC estimates that up to 18 women die in the U.S. every day from opioid overdoses, and this number does not even take into account other drugs that may be involved in these fatalities. To prevent SUDs from developing in the first place, it is important to better identify and address the unique needs of women struggling with substance use.
Barriers to Treatment
Women are more likely than men to face specific barriers to treatment, such as stigma, shame, and lack of access to resources. As a result, women with SUDs often go untreated and are at greater risk for developing serious health problems.
Women are less likely than men to receive adequate treatment for substance abuse, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIDA). In addition, when women get help, they are less likely than men to receive care at a specialized drug treatment facility.
Instead, women are often treated by primary care providers or mental health programs. In addition, women face more obstacles to treatment than men, including childcare and transportation issues. Studies show women are more likely to relapse after treatment and less likely to achieve long-term recovery.
Specialized drug treatment facilities that offer childcare and transportation services are often more effective in treating women with SUDs.
There is growing evidence that suggests women are more vulnerable to developing substance use disorders than men. One reason for this is that women are more likely to self-medicate with illegal substances to cope with parenting and other life stressors. Additionally, women are more likely to transition from substance abuse to dependence and addiction, known as telescoping, and tend to do so at a faster pace. This is partially due to the fact that women metabolize substances differently than men, which can lead to a quicker and more intense high. Consequently, women often need less of a substance to achieve the same level of intoxication as men. Women also face barriers to finding help such as a lack of resources or transportation. Effective prevention and treatment programs should take these differences into account to successfully address the needs of women. To learn more, call Vanity Wellness Center at (866) 587-1737.