Substance Abuse Very Different in Women vs. Men

Posted on October 22nd, 2012
Posted in Addiction

Substance abuse is not a respecter of persons. Addiction affects both men and women alike; however, each sex may use for very different reasons. More often than men, women use alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety and depression. They are also up to three times as likely to suffer from these ailments as their male counterparts.

It’s only been over the last 20 years that we’ve come to a better understanding of how substance abuse impacts women. According to an article published at the Academy of Women’s Health website, it was in the 1990s that gender related differences were really accounted for as most studies prior to that time were conducted on men. Before the 1990s, women were excluded from addiction research as it was thought that their hormones from menstruation would skew results.

What drives and perpetuates addiction in women is completely different than in men. Data shows that women are younger at the onset of addiction, experience stronger cravings, are more likely to binge on their drug of choice, and have a harder time kicking the habit. Traditionally, more men than women have struggled with dependence, but it is believed this is due to the fact that women aren’t exposed to drugs and alcohol as often.

To gain an understanding and proper vantage point for treatment, it is necessary to explore how the menstrual cycle and hormones estrogen and progesterone impact substance abuse. When estrogen production in the body is high, the chance for substance abuse increases. Progesterone, on the other hand, decreases a woman’s cravings. It has been shown that the week leading up to a woman’s period is a time of greater susceptibility to relapse because the estrogen production that week makes substance use more enjoyable. Essentially, drugs may be used as a source to relieve the discomforts of menstruation.

Treating substance abuse in women requires taking the timing of cravings into account. Other gender related factors such as any underlying anxiety or depression should also be considered. When it comes to accounting for gender-related differences, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

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