Both men and women are afflicted with the disease of addiction. Addiction is an equal opportunity illness that doesn’t care who you are, what you have or don’t have, and it doesn’t care how smart you are or where you come from.
With that said, there are some significant differences between men and women in addiction and recovery. Some differences are physiological, some are social. The differences begin right away with the use of substances. They continue on into addiction and how addiction impacts men versus women, and it continues on into recovery.
Why Are These Differences Important?
We know that addiction can affect anyone. We know that female or male, addiction can lead to jails, institutions, and death. So why is it important to pay attention to these differences?
First, it’s important to note that it is only recently that women’s addiction has even been studied. While treatment and counseling for addiction have been available to women for many years, little attention was paid to how women respond to substances, how they are affected by addiction, or whether the current treatment standard, geared toward men, would be the best help for them.
In other words, addiction treatment was very much a man’s world that women were allowed into. Women were integrated into rehabs that offered treatments designed for men.
Only in the last 20 years has much research been done that explores these issues from a woman’s perspective. What has been found has opened the eyes of treatment providers, and given them more information than ever before about women’s needs in addiction treatment and recovery.
The Physiological Differences
Research shows that while men appear to have more access to drugs than women, women and men are equally likely to try drugs. They are also equally likely to use and become addicted to cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana and alcohol. However, women are more likely to become addicted to sedatives and drugs that are largely prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia.
Statistically, men are twice as likely to meet the criteria for substance abuse disorder. Alcohol abuse rates among men are three times higher. However, prescription drug abuse is nearly as high among women as men.
Co-occurring Disorders And Gender Differences
A particularly interesting find is that women are more likely than men to have a pre-existing psychiatric disorder, such as anxiety, depression or trauma than men. This is particularly the case for childhood sexual trauma. In other words, women are more likely to abuse substances as a response to high levels of stress, anxiety and trauma.
Do Drugs Affect Women Differently?
Yes. There are physiological differences between men and women that result in differences in the way that drugs and alcohol affect women. It often takes less of a drug to produce an effect, and women are more likely than men to experience physical consequences as a result of substance use. In addition, women tend to progress more quickly to addictive use and substance dependence.
Women, Men, And Relapse
Studies show that women are less likely than men to relapse. In a NIDA study, only 22 percent of women relapsed as opposed to 32 percent of men. The study also showed that women participated more actively in group therapy, and cited this as a large reason why the relapse rates were different. However, there are also studies that show that women are more likely to relapse as a result of unaddressed trauma, domestic violence, and unhealthy relationships.
There are profound differences in the way that women and addiction are viewed, as well as ways that society contributes to women’s substance abuse issues. For example, pervasive societal expectations of women may contribute to substance abuse problems, or result in an unwillingness to get help with substance abuse problems.
There appears to be more judgment and negativity against women who have addictions, especially if they are mothers. This judgment can create a barrier for women who want to seek help. It increases the levels of guilt and shame that women experience and can often create a hostile environment for women to recover.
Barriers To Recovery
It can be more difficult for women to seek help for substance use disorders than men. This is often due to familial responsibilities, and also due to lack of support. Women are less likely to be encouraged by spouses and even families to seek treatment.
What Does It All Mean?
Both men and women struggle with substance abuse disorder, however, they don’t necessarily experience it the same way. Women often face huge challenges in recovery, as they are often dealing with issues around domestic violence, trauma from sexual assault, anxiety, and depression. This is often compounded by difficulties accessing treatment for those with young children, or dealing with separation from their children.
Wayside House Can Help
Wayside House is an addiction treatment center that helps women ages 18 and over recover from addiction. We offer treatment specifically designed for women and their unique needs. Wayside House provides a safe, supportive environment and helps women grow and thrive. Contact our program at 800-655-0817 to learn more.