to alcohol and drugs among women overall is roughly half that of men, but addiction in women has been growing at
a faster rate than men over the past several years. Consequently, the gender
gap has narrowed. According to the Centers for Disease Control &
Prevention, women addicted to heroin doubled between 2002 and
2013, twice the rate of increase among men.
Many of these women slipped
unknowingly into addiction, often with devastating consequences to their health,
family and lifestyle. While anyone can become addicted, women have more risk
predisposes women to become addicted faster: A woman’s body contains less water than men
(which means drugs and alcohol in the system are less diluted), more fatty
tissue (higher retention) and lower levels of specific enzymes (which leads to slower
break down of substances). As a result, women can progress faster to addiction
than men as their bodies are exposed to the substance longer and at higher
sexual abuse is a significant contributing factor: According to research by the National
Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), women who experienced any type of sexual abuse
during their childhood were about three times more likely than those that
weren’t sexually abused to report drug and alcohol dependence as adults. While
sexual abuse can happen to men or women, I often notice with my female patients
that childhood sexual abuse was indeed a factor in their addiction.
access to addictive medication acts as a gateway: I have noticed that women are likely to seek
medication or self-medicate for emotional and psychological issues. Anxiety,
depression, borderline personality disorder, and eating disorders more commonly
affect women and provide them access to prescription medication such as
benzodiazepines that carry the risk of addiction. If medication is a prescribed
course of treatment, and taken responsibly, these can be very helpful tools,
but if somebody is prone to addiction they may abuse medication (as we have
seen recently with Lena Dunham) and it can escalate.
related to family responsibilities and body image management lead to addictive
meds: Women are often a focal point of family logistics and
many times juggle a demanding career as well. Therefore, they are more prone to
start using addictive medication to help them keep up the appearance of being
able to juggle their careers and the family effortlessly. Women are also prone
to using stimulants (cocaine, amphetamines) to suppress hunger or manage
use, sometimes, helps bonding with partner: A boyfriend, spouse or other significant
partner can introduce a woman to drugs and drug-use rituals like sharing
needles. Drug use then becomes a way to cement these bonds.
is much more difficult for women to make that first call for help, as they
sometimes feel they might be abandoning their role in the family. Shame and
fear (of authorities separating their children from them) also are barriers to
women seeking treatment. If you do need help, here are some things to consider:
for a plan that fits your needs, not necessarily the other way around. I find that women often are the caregiver for
their children, the manager of the household, and hold down full time jobs.
Stepping away from all aspects of their lives for 30-days of inpatient
treatment isn’t always an option. Fortunately, there is an increase of
outpatient treatment centers, like the Center for Network Therapy, that offer
comprehensive therapy and detox during the day, but enable you to go home to
your family in the evenings. If a woman feels like she’s not “letting down her
family,” she is often more likely to seek help.
that you may need help with other issues, in addition to the addiction. Look for a facility that has trained staff to
be sensitive to gender-specific issues such as hormonal concerns and evaluating
female patients for trauma and PTSD. Often once you start peeling back the
layers you can get to the root of the problem, and see that substance abuse was
just a Band-Aid for a larger issue.
be afraid to get your family involved. Sometimes issues arise at home that impact a patient’s
sobriety. Bringing in the family to address these, as well as the impact that
addiction has had on the entire family unit, can often help to mitigate risk
and resolve old issues.
on the community.
Women are often better able to connect to peers, which makes support groups and
other self-help models like sponsors and sober companions a great tool when
looking to accelerate recovery.
importantly, it’s critical to remember that if you need help there are options
available – for those in need, SAMHSA has a huge variety of resources here: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline.