Differences in Substance Abuse: Men vs Women

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Drug and alcohol addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer of people’s lives. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or what you do; anyone can develop an addiction to substances and it slowly can tear your life apart and can throw the lives of your family and friends into dysfunction. Indeed, drug abuse and addiction can bring serious physical and psychological consequences to the addict, but the severity of these impacts can differ depending on the demographic group. These differences can be clearly seen when discussion how addiction manifests when comparing its effects and treatment outcomes for both men and women.

Addiction: No Longer Considered “A Man’s Disease”

Up until recent history, substance abuse and addiction were commonly seen as a being a man’s issue. In recent years, researchers in the addiction field have broadened their focus to include the differences regarding the impact addiction has on the lives of both men and women. As a result, more is known about the biological, psychological and social factors that affect how men and women experience addiction and what types of treatment can best address their needs. It is important to understand and address these specific needs so that both men and women can help the proper help they need to effectively overcome their substance abuse and addiction.

Gender, Drug Use and the Adolescent Years

adolesncents hanging out together

Regardless of gender, the adolescent years are the time when both sexes begin to experiment with drugs and alcohol as well as other risky behaviors. Overall, countless studies have shown that adolescent boys are more likely to engage in risky behavior than girls–and that includes using drugs and alcohol. Information from several surveys has pointed out that boys are twice as likely to start engaging in drug use behaviors in comparison to girls.

There are also gender differences seen in this age demographic in regards to the types of drugs being used. For example, data collected from SAMHSA shows that 21.7 percent of girls aged 12-17 admitted to drug treatment do so because of alcohol compared to 10.5 percent of boys in the same age group. From the same SAMHSA study, 80.7 percent of boys admitted to treatment cited marijuana as their primary drug of choice in comparison to 60.8 percent of girls. Additionally, for those in the 12-17 age group admitted to treatment for meth abuse, girls (4.2 percent) far outnumbered boys (1.3 percent) in regards to meth being the primary drug of choice.

Differences in How Addiction Develops Between Men and Women

When it comes to the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse in men and women, men, in general, are more likely to develop a substance abuse issue that women. For example, men are twice as likely to develop and meet the criteria for drug and alcohol dependence in comparison to women. It is also estimated that men are three times as likely to become alcohol dependent or alcoholic. However, men and women are equally addicted to drugs such as methamphetamine and prescription medications.

There are also differences in the reasons men and women abuse drugs and alcohol. It is well-known in the addiction treatment and prevention community that co-occurring mental disorders often the root cause of drug and alcohol use. In general, men tend to use substances to try and increase positive moods and as a coping mechanism in dealing with social and behavioral problems. On the other hand, women tend to abuse drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medication in an attempt to deal with emotional and psychological issues.

In comparison to men, women seem to be at greater risk for developing an addiction to substances as a result of traumatic events in their lives. Abusive relationships, childhood trauma, stress, history of parents abusing substances at home are flashpoints for substance abuse and relapse in women. Interestingly, women are often introduced to drugs and drug use through a significant relationship such as a boyfriend, spouse or partner who uses drugs. Additionally, women are also more likely than men to use stimulant drugs such as nicotine, cocaine, and amphetamines and to suppress appetite.

difference women and men

Differences In Why Men and Women Enter Drug Treatment

The differences in how substance abuse and addiction affects men and women can also be seen in how they enter treatment. Men tend to enter drug treatment programs because of interventions from the criminal justice system or their employer while women tend to enter programs due to referrals from social workers or an agency outside the addiction treatment field. For men who enter treatment, they tend to go into treatment because they’re somehow forced to do so while women who go into drug treatment do so because they first ask for help with another issue that may be related to their addiction. Additionally, men might need to stay in care in order to avoid consequences such as keeping a job or staying out of jail.

In regards to entering drug treatment, women face barriers that are unique. For example, women are more likely to be underinsured or uninsured and will more likely have obstacles in finding adequate child care options. Additionally, many women may lack the necessary social support from family and friends that support their decision to go to treatment. Because of their role at nurturers and caregivers, there may also be added stigma of being a female addict.

Differences in Treatment and Recovery Programs

There are marked differences in drug treatment philosophy for men and women. A large percentage of drug treatment facilities employ therapies that have been tested on male addicts. While these therapies can be effective for both sexes, the structure of therapies and treatment may be more on the punitive side which may not work with women. Women are better equipped to thrive in a treatment environment which places more emphasis on the following:

  • focus on group session and therapy where they receive support and are empowered by peers and staff.
  • employs more holistic and creative therapy techniques such as art and music therapy
  • will feature solid and quality childcare options on site.
  • will have staff and leadership that is made up of women.

Once in treatment, though, women are just as likely as men to complete treatment and will have similar rates of abstinence. Some studies suggest that women have the upper hand in recovery, with shorter relapse periods and greater willingness to seek help after a relapse. After treatment, both men and women can benefit greatly from aftercare programs such as intensive outpatient, sober living as well as continued involvement in 12-Step groups such as AA, NA or other similar sober support groups. As with drug treatment, there are aftercare options and support groups that are available exclusively to either men or women.

Ocean Breeze Recovery: Drug Treatment That Works for All

At Ocean Breeze Recovery Center, we understand that drug treatment is not a one size fits all proposition. No matter the gender, cultural or socioeconomic background, each person as a specific and unique set of needs and goals in recovery. With our wide range of therapies and treatments we offer, our experienced staff is able to create an individual treatment and recovery plan will best suit your needs. Contact Ocean Breeze Recovery Center today and begin living a life of recovery today.

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