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Facts About Women And Addiction

Traditionally, funding for addiction research has focused primarily on men, and it wasn’t until the early 1990s that federal dollars were directed to studies targeting women and addiction. Not surprisingly, researchers have discovered that addiction affects men and women very differently.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, (NIDA), estimates that 9 million women have used illegal drugs in the past year, and approximately 4 million have used prescription medications non-medically. An estimated 6 million have used marijuana during the past year, and nearly 2 million have used cocaine. According to Harvard Health Publications, women tend to begin using cocaine at a younger age than men.

Harvard Health also reports that men are still more likely to become addicted, but the gap is narrowing. Research indicates that women progress faster from abuse to addiction, and once addicted, women find it more difficult to stop.

Regarding women and alcoholism, women are more susceptible to the physical effects of heavy drinking, including brain and liver damage. The damage occurs more quickly for women, and the mortality rate is higher. This is primarily because women metabolize alcohol differently than men. They have a higher fat content and they usually weigh less, so they absorb alcohol faster and get drunk faster than men.

Addiction is definitely a family affair, and most addicted women have at least one addicted parent or family member. Many have been abused at some point in their lives, and women often use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate depression, low self-worth and lack of self-esteem. Women addicts are more likely to suffer from PTSD than their male counterparts.

Women tend to suffer more relapses than men, which may because they often leave treatment early due to responsibilities at home. The good news is that with quality treatment, women do well and are just as likely to recover successfully as men. In fact, women are naturally inclined to thrive on connections with other people and tend to do remarkably well in group treatment.

Unfortunately, only about 30 percent of women who need help with addiction actually receive treatment. There are a variety of possible reasons why this is so:

  • Women are hesitant to be separated from their families for extended periods. Women who would benefit from intensive inpatient treatment often lack affordable care for their children.
  • Women who are addicted to illegal drugs may have fears of their children being taken away by Children Protective Services.
  • Women are often ashamed of substance abuse or addiction. While men are admired for bold, risk-taking behavior, women are expected to be caring, nurturing, “well-behaved” and feminine.
  • Women are more likely than men to receive pain medications from medical providers, who often prescribe addictive medications for arthritis, fibromyalgia, or a variety of “feminine issues.”
  • Women often believe certain drugs are safe because they are prescribed by a doctor for legitimate health concerns.
  • Some women keep their drug use secret; for example, women who use amphetamines in an attempt to lose weight.
  • In some cases, women consider drinking to be purely a social activity. A glass of wine with friends is a great way to relax after a busy day, but problems arise when women find themselves drinking alone or earlier in the day.
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