Is it possible that women are more prone to the self-destructive behaviors of addiction? Drug abuse as a pervasive problem of our society has tended to focus on men. It’s rare to find documentation specific to women. But in fact, women have a distinct biology and often quite different driving factors that indicate the need for gender-sensitive treatment. This is recognized to a degree by treatment centers that offer gender-separated facilities or even cater specifically to a particular sex. However, in addressing the problems of addiction, a far broader recognition of these disparities may be warranted.
As reported by Vice in its 2016 Annual Report, the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board made a point of calling for “gender-sensitive drug policies and programs, better health-care access for drug-dependent women, and more funding to prevent and treat drug abuse among women.” The report also cites that once women start abusing drugs their rate of consumption progresses more rapidly than among men. Women, it says, also tend to develop a substance use disorder more quickly than men. While women and girls comprise one-third of global drug users, just one-fifth of addiction treatment recipients are women—as systemic barriers affect their access. The report also highlights how compared to men, women are more likely to be prescribed narcotics and anti-anxiety medication, and are consequently more likely to abuse that medication.
Women and their Behaviors of Addiction
Drug abuse among women has recently been highlighted by author Jenny Valentish in her book Woman of Substances. A visual documentation came in the form of a photographic journey amongst women who are long-time heroin addicts, captured by Australian Molly Harris.
Other points made about women and the behaviors of addiction include the fact that women are more likely to resort to self-destructive habits in order to feel included and/or to find a sense of personal independence and equality. Women are also far more likely to use drugs or alcohol as a means of overcoming awkwardness or introversion in social situations, whereas men are more likely to use drugs to enhance the fun of such situations.
While men are more likely to be addicted, women progress more quickly from using an addictive substance to dependence (known as telescoping). Alcoholism, in particular, develops faster in women based on simple biology: women tend to have lower body mass than men, with less water and more fatty tissue. Water dilutes alcohol, while fat retains it. Women also have a lower activity level of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), which breaks down alcohol. All this means that a woman’s organs have greater exposure, resulting in becoming intoxicated – and addicted – faster than their male counterparts. These biological factors have similar consequences in illicit drug use.
The medical or social consequences of addiction develop faster in women than in men, making it more difficult for them to stop using, and more likely to relapse. These are factors that should be taken into account during treatment; traditional addiction treatment programs were developed based on research in men. Research on how to use this information to affect more effective addiction help for women is still in the early stages.
Per Wickstrom founded the treatment program A Forever Recovery with this purpose in mind: “Drug rehabilitation is essential to reinstating the values of our country. Our mission is to make rehabilitation available to everyone.” The program strives to provide a range of treatment options, customizable to the individual, to help each find success in rehabilitation. This awareness – that addiction is an affliction that manifests uniquely in different individuals – is essential to provide the best possible outcome to those seeking a life free of substance abuse. To learn more about the behaviors of addiction among women, call our toll-free number today.