It is more known about addiction and recovery than ever before. While there is still so much to learn, much progress has been made, and treatments, therapies and medications are more effective than ever. Compared to the recent past when most addicts were simply locked away, things are looking up. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go, especially when it comes to addiction and women.
It may surprise people to know that women’s addiction problems weren’t even a topic of study, research or much attention at all until very recently. For decades research on addiction centered around men. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that women’s addiction received any attention. Yes, women could get help in 12 step programs and treatment centers, but there was no information about how women were affected by addiction, and if gender played any role in drug effects, choices, addiction rates and recovery rates.
Fortunately, this has changed, and the results of recent research and study have yielded significant results. There are notable differences in the ways that men and women use. There are differences in how drugs effects women vs. men, how long it takes women to become addicted, and how difficult it is to recover. Many of these differences are physiological, but when it comes to the differences between men and women and drug addiction, society, gender roles and expectations play a big part.
How Do Women Use Differently Than Men?
Let’s first look at the most commonly used and abused drug worldwide: Alcohol. In the past, statistics showed that more men indulged in alcohol than women. As recently as the 1970’s, there were much higher rates of male drinkers vs. female drinkers. Over the years, this gap has narrowed significantly.
The problem is that women are not only quicker to develop a physical dependence on alcohol, they are also quicker to experience negative physical consequences, such as liver damage. But what about other drugs?
Statistically speaking, men still abuse alcohol and marijuana more than women do, especially marijuana. There are no clear reasons for this, but there is speculation that marijuana is more likely to result in depression in women than men, making it a less desirable drug.
When it comes to stimulants like meth and cocaine, women and men are equally likely to partake. However studies have shown that in animals with the opportunity to self-administer drugs, the females self-administered sooner, and in larger quantities than the males.
Other research shows that there are key differences as to the “why’s” of stimulant abuse. Women are more likely to be offered stimulants, particularly methamphetamines, by a romantic partner. Women are also more likely to use stimulants as a method of weight loss, and as a tool for increased productivity.
Women in our society today have high expectations of themselves. They expect to be able to juggle careers, children, romantic relationships, housework and a myriad of other activities — and to look “good” while doing it. For many women, stimulant drugs are attractive because they increase energy levels so they can get more done, suppress the appetite so they can lose weight, and elevate mood and sex drive, making them a more desirable partner. This is a trap, of course, and the toll that methamphetamines and stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall are taking is dramatic.
Stimulants continue to be a large problem for women, who also appear to have more difficulty quitting them and higher relapse rates than men.
Opiates And Benzos
Women are more likely to be prescribed opiates and benzos than men are. While it is not clear why this is, one can speculate that societal factors and gender roles play a part. Historically, doctors have routinely prescribed women drugs, namely benzodiazepines to help them “calm down.” Particularly in recent years, prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs have led to skyrocketing addiction rates with drugs such as Xanax and Ativan being particularly troublesome.
Trauma And Abuse
While abuse happens to both genders, women addicts are more likely than men to have been victims of incest, sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence. Using drugs is often a way to self-medicate and numb painful feelings.
Overall, the research that has been done has shown that women and men respond differently to drugs, both psychologically and physically, and that women seem to be more vulnerable to addiction and have more trouble quitting. With these facts in mind, why is it that there are more men in treatment than women?
Barriers To Getting Help
Women face greater barriers to getting help for addiction than men. Studies show that women in treatment are less likely than men to have high school diplomas, and women are less likely to be informed about treatment options. Women are less likely than men to be referred to treatment by employers, and women are also more likely to lose permanent custody of their children as a result of drug addiction.
This last fact is probably one of the biggest barriers to getting treatment. Stigma and fear is a huge barrier. Women are more likely to be the primary caregivers for children. This makes getting help difficult. Women are less likely to reach out for help. For women who stay at home, they are less likely to be aware of available help and resources, and are less likely to have a support system in place that will allow them to get help.
The stigma of being an addict is bad enough, but to be a woman and a mother on top of that can be even worse. People are judgemental, and for women who become pregnant and are unable to stop using, the consequences are even worse.
What Can Be Done To Help Addicted Women?
Much is being done, right now. More and more programs are recognizing the plight of women who are addicted. Hopefully, in the future there will be more in the way of outreach to help women who are addicted and isolated, often in abusive relationships and often with children dependent on them for care.
Where To Turn If You Need Help
If you are a woman who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, or if you know a woman who needs help, Wayside House offers a drug treatment program designed by women, for women. Our unique program recognizes the challenges that women face in both addiction and recovery. Our center is warm, welcoming and set in beautiful, safe and serene surroundings. If you would like to learn more about Wayside House and its unique treatment program, call 561-278-0055 today to schedule a free, confidential consultation.