Women Exhibit Unique Responses to Drug Addiction
The causes, consequences, and treatments of drug addiction are slightly different for each individual. But growing research has revealed that the components of drug addiction can be very different between men and women.
Studies have shown that women respond both behaviorally and biologically differently in their addiction to drugs. Influences such as the menstrual cycle, sexual abuse, pregnancy, motherhood, and vulnerability steer the path of drug addiction in women.
Causes of Drug Addiction in Women
- Sexual Abuse – Studies of women in drug abuse treatment programs reported that nearly 70 percent had been repeatedly physically and/or sexually abused beginning before the age of 11. Thirty-two percent of women who became pregnant before the age of 18 reported that they had suffered rape or incest in their past. Lower self-esteem and painful memories in these women caused them to use more cocaine and crack than those without a history of sexual abuse.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Eating Disorders – A study of women who had developed PTSD because they were crime victims revealed that they were 17 times more likely to abuse drugs than non-victims. Pressured to maintain a beautiful feminine body, women with eating disorders also tend to have alcohol or drug problems. Fifty-five percent of women who suffer from bulimia admitted that they had substance abuse problems, too.
- Life with other drug abusers – Women are more likely than men to stay with a partner who has a drug addiction. Many women refuse to leave and want to nurture and help a partner who is consumed by drug addiction. But in this battle, women put themselves in jeopardy of being influenced by their loved one and succumbing to drug abuse, too.
Unique Consequences of Drug Addiction in Women
- Vulnerable Victims – Female drug abusers are at a greater risk than men of being victimized. Some women, in desperate need of more drugs to satisfy their addiction, will offer sex as payment. This could lead into a life of prostitution controlled by pimps, and it increases their risks for sexual abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted pregnancy. One homicide study in New York City reported that 59 percent of white women and 72 percent of African-American women had been using cocaine prior to their death. This is compared to only 38 percent of white men and 44 percent of African-American men.
- Pregnancy Complications – Babies born to women who have drug problems have a much greater risk of death, low birth weight, malformation, and disabilities. Unfortunately, it is a common problem. Studies estimate that 5.5 percent of women in the United States who deliver live-born babies used illicit drugs during their pregnancy.
Treatment and Recovery
It is important for women to seek the drug treatment that they need. Unfortunately, some women avoid treatment because they fear that their children will be taken away from them. Others feel shame and guilt and try and hide their addiction from family and friends.
The good news is that when women receive proper treatment, they respond quickly. A national study by the Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Study (DATOS) reported on women who were admitted to a long-term residential treatment program. Out of 84 percent of women who used drugs daily or once a week, only 28 percent of them continued their drug abuse after 12 months of treatment.
Health professionals believe that the most successful addiction recovery programs for women offer a highly supportive, caring, and comfortable atmosphere that offers healing and guidance in combating depression and other mental disorders, in becoming a good mother for their children, and in relationships with partners and others.