People begin using drugs and alcohol for any number of reasons, however there are some distinct patterns emerging in why men and women begin to use drugs or alcohol, and moreover, differences in why they become addicted. These patterns are leading to new drug and alcohol treatment approaches, with promising outcomes.
However, despite increasing awareness, women continue to face tough obstacles in access to evidence-based treatment, and even after treatment, face higher rates of relapse due to a number of external, and possibly biochemical factors. As a result, they are also more likely to struggle with addiction for a longer duration than their male counterparts.
The Differences In Why Men And Women Drink Or Use Drugs
Patterns defined by gender do appear to offer insight into the differences in why men and women drink or use drugs. Men appear more likely to drink or use drugs in social situations to feel more powerful, or in modeling after peers. While women most often appear to use drugs and alcohol for the numbing effect these substances have on pain due to past traumas.
It has also been more acceptable for men to use substances, like alcohol or other legal drugs like nicotine publicly, than women. So, while changing, social use of drugs and alcohol by women has historically been less common.
There are also key differences in the kinds of drugs men and women tend to abuse. Women are far less likely than men to abuse an illegal substance like heroin or cocaine. And though women tend to drink less often than men, they become addicted more quickly. In fact, research has shown that women are a third less likely to engage in drug- or alcohol-related activities, but tend to increase use of a substance at double the rate of men.
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The Physical Differences Between Men And Women That Lead To Addiction
Some physical differences between men and women also exist that can lead to or perpetuate addiction. Generally speaking, men metabolize substances faster than women, meaning the concentration of a substance is reduced faster, than in women. In other words, it takes less of a substance to affect a woman as it would a man. These differences can have dire consequences for social drinkers or other types of drug use, in which women are held to similar expectations as men for engaging in use of these substances.
Research is ongoing and much more is needed before more specific conclusions in whether or not biochemical differences between men and women make one sex more susceptible to addiction than the other. A recent study, examining cocaine use between men and women, indicated that women tend to respond to cocaine’s effect more so than men in ways that put them at greater risk of overdose.
In comparing men and women and associated feelings of euphoria and well-being associated with use of the drug, researchers noted women reported a more immediate and longer lasting effect that can alter their perception toward the safety of increasing their dose to life-threatening levels, indicating a need for early intervention.
Women and men are also hard-wired to respond to their environment differently. Evolution has favored higher rates of anxiety in women, who were the care-takers of the family, than men, who were the hunter-gatherers. As a result, women experience twice the rate of anxiety and depression than their male counterparts.
Studies have indicated that in women who attempt to stop use of a substance, show different results based on where they are in their menstrual cycle. Reasons for this are likely again related to levels of anxiety, which tend to increase between ovulation and the start of a new cycle.
Gender And Drug And Alcohol Rehabilitation
Emerging models that address past traumas associated with why women tend to abuse alcohol or drugs, include cognitive behavioral therapy and the Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model (TREM). These therapies address the root causes for addiction outside of genetic predisposition and have shown higher rates of success among women with access to these types of programs.
These trauma-recovery models may also be used in conjunction with other therapies, including 12-step programs.
Gender Disparity And Barriers In Drug And Alcohol Treatment
Women typically face more barriers in accessing the kinds of comprehensive treatment options that best suit their needs. Often they are less likely to be identified by health care providers as needing treatment for alcohol or drug addiction, especially if older. And women are far less likely to be referred to treatment overall.
Women with young children face an even greater risk of both criminalization of alcohol or drug use, as well as difficulties accessing treatment facilities that allow children, or a lack of access to adequate child care. The same is true for ongoing treatment measures, like support groups, which involve time outside of the home. These barriers make even the women who enter treatment more likely to relapse, than men receiving similar care.
Women are also far more likely to encounter financial barriers to treatment. Research also suggests women, especially mothers, face greater stigmatization when coping with addiction, making them less likely to reach out to family, friends, and medical professionals for help.
Women, especially those with co-occurring mental disorders are more likely to engage in co-dependent behaviors and relationships that support their use of alcohol or drugs.
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