People tend to downplay the differences between men and women, especially with the importance of gender equality. But there is at least one area where gender differences really do play a role: substance abuse and addiction. Not only that, but there are also differences in the way men and women seek out and react to addiction treatment once they are in recovery. Simply put, there are gender differences in drug abuse. Of course, you don’t have to take our word for it.
“National data consistently show that gender is an important factor to consider when examining patterns of substance abuse, such as overall prevalence rates and substances of choice.”
~ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
There you have it, folks: there are gender differences between men and women when it comes to addiction. But what do these differences look like?
The Difference That Gender and Drug Abuse Make
We have this handy list to give a clear picture of the similarities and differences in addiction risk, development and progression among males and females. Rather than getting bogged down in specific substance abuse statistics by gender, consider this your quick guide to gender differences in drug use and drug abuse (of course, we also have some statistics to share). This list is essentially both the similarities and differences in addiction risk, development, and progression among males and females. From the rate of substance abuse among females to the importance of gender-sensitive addictions counseling, we address it all. Ready to dive in? Great!
#1: Substance Abuse Statistics By Gender: Men Are More Likely to Abuse Drugs and Alcohol Than Women
When it comes to the question of who uses drugs more – males or females – the answer is relatively straightforward. In simple terms, both drug and alcohol abuse are more common for men than for their female counterparts. More specifically, drug addiction affects men twice as often as it does women. With alcoholism, the gender differences in substance use disorders is even more apparent: men are three times as likely to struggle with alcoholism than women. Number one on the list of gender differences in substance abuse, then, is prevalence. Both substance abuse and addiction are more prevalent among men than substance abuse among females. When looking substance abuse statistics by gender, women are less likely to face addiction to the same level as men. But that isn’t the whole picture. Female drug abuse statistics show that nearly 16 million women in the United States have used illegal drugs in the past year. Clearly, substance abuse among females is still prevalent.
#2: Men and Women Abuse Prescription Opioids at the Same Rate
As #1 on the list makes clear, men tend to abuse drugs as a whole at a greater rate than women. This includes nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs. While this may be a list of gender differences in addiction and recovery, it is worth noting at least one similarity: women are nearly as likely as men to abuse prescription painkillers. More specifically, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that around 4 million women reported past-year misuses of prescription pain medicines – compared with 5 million men. While these numbers are not right on the nose, they are very close considering the other substance abuse statistics by gender discussed above.
#3: Gender and Drug Abuse Changes the Reasoning Behind Drug Use
Research has shown that men tend to abuse drugs or alcohol for two major reasons: to increase their positive mood or else to deal with behavioral and social problems. In contrast, women turn to substance abuse for internal reasons: psychological or emotional issues. Some of the reasons women will turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication include:
- Stressors in relationships or pressure from a boyfriend/spouse
- Experiencing childhood trauma
- Parental drug use or an unstable home environment as a child
- Victimization from trauma or abuse
- Co-occurring disorders (like anxiety and depression)
- Eating disorders or an attempt at weight loss
These differences in the reason behind drug abuse is important to consider when considering gender differences in substance abuse treatment.
#4: Gender Differences in Drug Abuse: Women Face Different Issues in Addiction Than Men
Understanding gender differences in addiction and recovery is not as simple as asking, “Who uses drugs more – males or females?” Instead, there are also a variety of issues that women face in both addiction and in recovery that are not necessarily experienced by men. While these personal and interpersonal issues are not unique to women, female drug abuse statistics tell us that women are more likely to experience them. Some of the most common issues experienced by women in addiction include:
- Women tend to face more of a stigma in addiction than men.
- Women with a substance use disorder face a higher level of violence and abuse.
- Women tend to have more difficulty recognizing their substance abuse for what it truly is.
- Women who struggle with substance abuse or addiction are more likely than men to have experienced some form of childhood trauma.
- Women are not asked about their drug or alcohol use by professionals as often as men.
These differences in personal issues associated with gender and addiction have various consequences. One of the major consequences is that women are less likely to seek out or receive addiction treatment.
#5: Gender Differences in Drug Abuse: Trauma is More Likely to Be A Factor of Addiction for Women
There is no question that trauma and addiction are tied together – for both men and women. However, trauma is more likely to be tied to addiction for women than it is for men. As we noted above, women who struggle with substance abuse and addiction are more likely than men to have experienced childhood trauma in their past. Women are also more likely to have experienced domestic abuse or physical assault, which are both forms of trauma. 8 out of 10 women who are in treatment for substance abuse or addiction have a history of trauma or abuse. Clearly, the connection between trauma and addiction is important to consider – and only more so when considering drug abuse and women’s health.
#6: Women Face More Barriers to Addiction Treatment Than Men
The title says it all: overall, women have a more difficult time than men in getting the help that they need to recover from addiction. This is one of the more concerning gender differences in substance abuse treatment. Of course, both men and women face a certain amount of stigma when it comes to seeking out help for their substance abuse or addiction. However, women have a more difficult time when it comes to gender differences in drug use for several reasons:
- Women are more likely to keep their alcoholism or drug addiction a secret.
- Professionals tend to ask women about their drug or alcohol use less than men.
- Women have practical household concerns – for instance, the cost of treatment and the necessary child-care for attending addiction treatment.
- Overall, women face more of a stigma as a female addict than men face as male addicts.
- Friends and support networks tend to downplay the role of substance abuse in women’s lives, leading them to believe they do not need treatment.
- Women are more likely to have a negative perspective on treatment once they do enter an addiction treatment program
This last barrier can be particularly difficult for women as they attempt to cope with past trauma, the impact of their addiction, and expectations for treatment all at the same time.
#7: Female Drug Abuse Statistics: Addiction Treatment is Just as Effective for Women as for Men
Again, this is a similarity instead of a difference – but that’s why it is so important to include! When women are able to overcome the barriers to treatment and face the stigma, research has shown that they have just as much of a positive outcome as men. The takeaway here should be this: despite all of the gender differences in addiction and recovery, women do just as well in recovery as men. More than anything, this highlights the importance of gender-sensitive addictions counseling and accounting for the gender differences in substance use disorders we’ve discussed here.
Understanding the Importance of Gender-Sensitive Addictions Counseling
This list of similarities and differences in addiction risk, development and progression among males and females may not be exhaustive. But these differences (and similarities!) do highlight an important point: not only are there gender differences in substance abuse, but there are also gender differences in substance abuse treatment. With these differences in mind, gender-sensitive addictions counseling is key to ensuring substance abuse among females is addressed in the way that they need. Discussing gender and addiction is important, but recovery is even more important. Ultimately, we are here to help individuals understand the connection between drug abuse and women’s health. More than that, we are here to help women on the road to recovery. If you have more questions about gender differences in substance abuse or gender differences in substance abuse treatment, feel free to contact us today.