Everyone knows that men and women are different. We think differently, act differently, and even look differently. Gender can impact many aspects of a person’s life, potentially even at the molecular level. There are definite differences when it comes to substance abuse and addiction between the genders.

Substance Abuse: Men vs. Women

More men than women use illicit drugs, die from an overdose involving drug abuse, and struggle with drug dependence and addiction, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes.

There are almost twice as many men as women in drug abuse and addiction treatment programs, according to data from 2011.

Women, however, are just as likely to struggle with addiction as men. They may have additional barriers to treatment.

Gender identification can play a role in adding potential stressors and possibly contributing to higher rates of drug use and addiction.There are differences in the types of drugs used traditionally by men and women. For instance, men are more likely to abuse alcohol, marijuana, and illicit drugs, while women are more apt to struggle with prescription drug misuse and addiction.

Traditionally, it has been more socially acceptable for men to drink and do drugs, while women were more often prescribed drugs as medicine. This dynamic may be shifting, however, as heroin indicators are going up for both women and men.

Differences in Alcohol Use

Drug and alcohol use is often considered a social event.

In the past, alcohol was considered more socially acceptable for men than women, and women were often frowned upon for drinking. Today, women are often encouraged to drink socially, and a lot of marketing is even geared directly toward women.

The gender bias for drinking alcohol has lessened considerably, though men do still tend to drink more alcohol. They engage in patterns of excessive drinking more than women do, the journal Addiction states.

At the same time, women are impacted more by alcohol’s effects in lower amounts than men are, strictly based on biological and metabolic differences.

Men are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, which includes excessive drinking and illicit drug use, than women. This is often in response to peer interactions.

Differences in Drug Use

Men are more likely to abuse drugs like marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, and opioids, and women are more apt to misuse tranquilizers and sedatives, Psychiatry Times relays. One significant exception to this rule recently is the rise of heroin abuse.

Heroin use is up across virtually all demographics, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. Heroin is a powerful opiate that is increasingly being used in place of painkiller medications that have become more difficult to obtain.

Differences in How Substances Are Abused

The ways in which drugs are abused differ between women and men.

For instance, women often start using drugs at younger ages than men, and drug use escalates faster in women than men.

Women often take lower doses of drugs than men, but drugs affect women more in lower amounts.

Women may be more apt to use drugs in response to stress or as a method of self-medicating, while men may use drugs in response to peer pressure.

Variables in How Addiction Manifests

Both women and men can struggle with addiction, but there are some gender differences that can play a role in how addiction manifests.

The Journal of Neuroscience Research publishes the following noticeable differences between men and women regarding addiction:

Differences Between Men and Women Regarding Addiction

  • Women start out using lower amounts of drugs, but they escalate drug use and dosage more rapidly than men.
  • The length of time from starting drug use to addiction is shorter for women than men.
  • Women commonly experience more stress during withdrawal, while men may struggle with more significant physical withdrawal symptoms.
  • Women are more likely to experience relapse, and men have longer periods of abstinence than women usually do.

Women are underrepresented in addiction treatment programs. They may struggle with barriers to treatment, such as child care issues and social stigmas that make it less likely for them to seek treatment. Psychiatric Times publishes that women do enter substance abuse treatment programs faster after developing substance dependence than men do, however.

Women are more apt to struggle with psychological issues, such as anxiety and mood disorders, when entering treatment.

Sex vs. Gender

Sex differences are biological, NIDA explains. They encompass factors like hormones. Gender deals more with the socially accepted and defined roles for women and men.

“Individuals identifying as LBGTQ often have higher rates of substance abuse and addiction, Social Work Today publishes, especially among teens. These individuals often face greater pressures to feel accepted and supported.  ”

Social Work Today

Gender and sex differences need to be attended to when treating addiction. Programs should cater to the specific needs of each person, adequately and appropriately addressing gender and sex-specific issues.

Gender-Specific Treatment Options

NIDA reports that women often struggle with more significant social, medical, behavioral, and psychological concerns when struggling with addiction and seeking treatment services than men do. Women often face family obligations that can be a barrier to treatment and also prevent treatment completion.

Addiction treatment programs for women need to address these concerns and ensure that things like child care and additional support are provided.

The gender-specific treatment goes beyond just these occupational concerns. For instance, women may experience higher rates of cravings and episodes of relapse as well as a struggle with co-occurring disorders at high rates. It is important to manage these issues as well.

Men are more prone to risk-taking behaviors, anger issues, and impulse control problems, which can be treated during therapy sessions.

Addiction treatment should manage all aspects of the disease, which can be complex. All of the following should be addressed:

What Should Be Addressed in Treatment

  • Type of drug abused, manner of abuse, and frequency of use
  • Drug dependence and withdrawal symptoms
  • Presence of any co-occurring disorders
  • Root causes of substance abuse
  • Relapse prevention
  • Social support
  • Gender and cultural differences

Treatment methods can include detox, group and individual counseling, life skills training, educational programs, relapse prevention programs, medication management, family counseling, case management, support group meetings, co-occurring disorders management, transitional services, and aftercare programs.

All of these treatment methods can be delivered in multiple settings, and each client should be treated on an individual basis.

NIDA explains that staying in drug addiction treatment for at least 90 days is optimal for recovery. Finding a program where you feel comfortable, understood, and heard can help you to stay in treatment and focus on long-term healing.

Customized Treatment

People are often most comfortable when surrounded by others like them. Addiction treatment can be especially helpful when broken down into peer groups.

Treatment programs that cater specifically to LGBTQ individuals, women, or men, or programs that are age-specific, can be especially beneficial.

Each population demographic is going to have their own set of needs, and individualized treatment can help to more address these effectively. Differences based on sex may require different pharmacological methods, for instance, while gender issues may need to focus more heavily on concerns that are part of daily life for a specific group of people.

Treatment programs that are gender-specific can identify issues within the population and work to address them.

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