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Women Using Pain Meds, Pot, More Prone to Addiction Than Men

Women Using Pain Meds, Pot, More Prone to Addiction Than MenAlong with polydrug abuse, polysubstance abuse is a term used by addiction specialists and public health officials to describe a pattern of alcohol, drug and/or medication abuse that includes at least two psychoactive (and typically addictive) substances. The short- and long-term consequences of such a pattern of substance intake are potentially severe. In a study published in October 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, a team of researchers from the University of Florida sought to determine if women involved in polysubstance abuse develop associated problems more rapidly than their male counterparts.

Polysubstance Abuse

Polysubstance abuse can involve any mind-altering substance. This means that a vast array of substance consumers meet the definition for this form of alcohol/drug/medication abuse and have an increased level of exposure to the pitfalls of unsupervised, recreational substance intake. The most severe problems associated with the simultaneous or overlapping consumption of two or more substances include nonfatal or fatal overdoses, bouts of the hallucinations and delusional thought processes that characterize the debilitating mental illness symptom known as psychosis, episodes of potentially debilitating panic or other symptoms of extreme anxiety and highly unstable or altered functions of the heart and blood vessels. Polysubstance abusers may also develop multiple forms of substance dependence and substance addiction. While many people knowingly embark upon a pattern of multiple substance intake, others inadvertently fall into such a pattern by consuming drugs that have been purposefully or accidentally tainted with at least one other psychoactive substance.

Gender and Substance Abuse

Men and boys have significantly higher chances of getting involved in certain forms of substance abuse than women and girls. For example, men develop serious alcohol problems far more often than women. In addition, men age 18 and older have higher chances of abusing a prescription medication. However, the differences in the rates of prescription medication abuse between the two genders are not great, and girls between the ages of 12 and 17 actually abuse these medications more often than their male counterparts. Once they start abusing drugs, medications or alcohol, women often develop associated problems more rapidly than men, even when they don’t consume substances more frequently or in larger amounts. This difference between the two genders apparently applies to the likelihood of developing a diagnosable case of substance use disorder (substance abuse and/or substance addiction). Addiction specialists and researchers sometimes use the term “telescoping effect” to describe the more rapid development of serious substance issues in women substance abusers.

Gender’s Impact on Polysubstance Abuse

In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the University of Florida researchers used the help of 543 men and women seeking treatment for substance-related issues to gauge the gender-specific impact of involvement in a pattern of polysubstance abuse. Two hundred eighty-eight of these participants were women. The researchers undertook this project, in part, because polysubstance abuse is rarely the focus of studies that consider the role of gender in substance intake. Each participant submitted information on such topics as the types of substances regularly consumed, the amount of substances regularly consumed, age at the time of first substance use, the presence of any substance-related problems and the speed of progression from the first instance of substance intake to the onset of such problems. All forms of drug and medication abuse were considered by the researchers, as well as the intake of alcohol and nicotine/tobacco.

The researchers concluded that women and men have widely varying patterns of substance use. For any given man or woman, specific varying factors include the age at which the use of a given substance began, as well as the frequency of substance intake. Importantly, the researchers also concluded that, compared to men, women polysubstance users develop substance problems unusually rapidly when they consume marijuana/cannabis and prescription opioid medications.

Overall, the study’s authors believe that their findings support the existence of a “telescoping effect” for women who engage in polysubstance abuse. However, they note the strangeness of the finding that women who abuse opioid medications experience such an effect, while women who abuse other types of opioids apparently do not. The authors call for additional research to explore the reasons why women involved in multiple forms of substance abuse have different outcomes than men involved in multiple forms of substance abuse.

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