Addiction affects millions of people in the United States every year. It affects the young and the old, women, men and people of all races from all walks of life. It affects people who are wealthy and not, and people who are educated, practice a religion and who come from “good families.” In other words, anyone can become an addict.
With that said, addiction doesn’t affect all people the same way. One clear area where there are differences is between the genders.
Although more men appear to develop problems with substance abuse than women, women face unique challenges.
Studies have shown that women experience differences in the way that they become addicted, as well as the way that drugs affect them, what types of drugs are most commonly used and difficulty in getting clean and sober.
Women And Addiction
It is both interesting and sad to note that it is only recently that women’s addiction was given any attention at all. Up until the 1990’s, most addiction research was focused solely on men. There were few addiction resources devoted to women.
Recently, studies have found that there are some significant differences between the sexes when it comes to addiction. Some of the differences are physiological, and some are more cultural in nature. Here are some interesting findings:
- Women appear to become dependent on a substance more quickly than men. This is likely a result of physiological differences.
- Women develop physical and social consequences as a result of addiction faster than men.
- Women have higher relapse rates. Factors include: Untreated trauma, partner’s who use, low self-worth and higher difficulty in detaching from the using environment.
What Drugs Are Most Commonly Abused By Women?
While men and women do the same drugs, there does seem to be a leaning toward more drugs than others when it comes to women who use. There are varying reasons for this, which we will explore now.
While studies show that more men than women drink alcohol, it is also true that alcohol is the most commonly abused drug for women. This makes sense. Alcohol is legal and socially acceptable.
Benzos have long been a drug more commonly abused by women than men. This is a societal issue, as women are more likely to be prescribed or given benzodiazepines.
Benzos include drugs like Xanax, Ativan and Valium. Valium was known in the 60’s as “Mother’s little helper” and while still used today, Xanax seems to have taken that spot.
These drugs are most often prescribed for anxiety. They are intended for short-term use in conjunction with therapy to help cope with anxiety and panic. Unfortunately, they are highly addictive and cause physical dependence. Xanax is one of the most widely prescribed prescription drugs today.
In addition to benzos, prescription opiates are another huge part of the prescription drug problem. Easily obtained, highly addictive and dangerous, drugs like Oxycontin, Vicodin, Codeine and others are commonly abused by women.
While meth seems to be abused fairly equally between the sexes, there are some distinct differences in use, addiction and recovery.
Women are most often introduced to meth via a romantic partner. Women who use meth are much more likely to be in an abusive relationship and relapse rates among women who use meth are quite high.
Women often look to meth because it enables them to lose weight, and many women who relapse report that weight gain was a key factor.
Women also report that they found meth helped them be more productive (initially) and more sexual.
Why Do Women Abuse Some Drugs More Than Others?
Again, societal factors influence a woman’s choice of drugs. Drugs that help them be more productive, lose weight, become more sexual or help them “calm down” are popular. The pressure to lose weight, get everything done, be more sexual, be more relaxed, etc. is strong. Especially today, women are taking on multiple roles and are expected to perform these roles well and look good while doing it.
Also, there are other factors involved, such as unaddressed mental health issues. Self-medication is a common reason people, both women and men begin using and keep using drugs.
Women are more likely than men to experience anxiety and depression, and also more likely to seek help for these problems. Women are more likely to be prescribed benzos for their anxiety.
Also, women are more likely to use drugs to help them cope with trauma and PTSD as a result of sexual abuse or assault. These often go unaddressed and untreated for years, spawning a vicious cycle of drug use to help cope.
Consequences Of Drug Use For Women
Another unfortunate fact when it comes to women and drug use is that women are often more hesitant to seek treatment due to fear of consequences. Women are more often the sole caregivers of children, and women are more likely than men to lose custody of their children due to addiction.
In addition, women are more likely than men to face negative judgment for their drug abuse. Society continues to hold women, particularly mothers, to a higher standard of behavior than men. This, coupled with the unfortunate reality that many people still consider addiction to be a moral or behavioral issue rather than a disease or illness can be a huge barrier to women when it comes to seeking treatment.
Help For Women And Addiction
If you are a woman who is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, Wayside House can help. We offer a program just for women, that understands the unique challenges faced by women. Our program offers comprehensive treatment and a variety of holistic therapies that are usually only found in pricier treatment centers. For more information about Wayside House and their treatment, call 800-655-0817.