2 Addictions Women Experience Differently Than Men
The beauty each woman brings to the world every day is unique, as are the challenges they face in life and in health. Historically, and even today, women face unique obstacles and injustices. Whether professionally, socially, or personally, women must often overcome distinctive adversities. One thing women experience differently than men is addiction.
Women Do Experience Addictions Differently
Overall, addiction does not discriminate. People from all demographics, regardless of race or sex, have the capacity to struggle with substance use disorder. We know this all too well, as drug overdose remains the leading cause of injury-related death in America. While statistics show that men are more likely to develop an addiction than women, women are more likely to face greater challenges.
Up until the 1990s, most research pertaining to substance abuse was focused on men and male-centered medical research. Then, after the United States began requiring federally funded studies enroll more women, certain differences became more noticeable with how addictions impact women.
When it comes to any addiction, women often experience both social and medical consequences of substance abuse faster than men. Statistically, women also find it harder to quit and are more vulnerable to relapse.
With different substances, there are different challenges to face. Certain drugs interact with the brain and impact the body differently than others. So, how do women experience specific drug addictions different than men?
Alcohol for Women
- Alcohol-related deaths killed 26,000 women a year
- Opioid-related deaths killed 13,000 women a year
While there isn’t exact data for 2017 on alcohol-related deaths for women, experts predict it is well over 26,000. According to NIAAA, approximately 8% of all women will be dependent on alcohol in their lifetime.
One thing alcohol and opioids have in common is that dependence develops faster in women than in men. The same is true for alcohol-induced organ injury, including:
- Liver disease
- Brain damage
Breast cancer risk can also increase by between 5-9%.
Biology plays a role in women being more susceptible to the effects of alcohol. In general, women weigh less than men, meaning the female body would have less water and more fatty tissue. Because fat retains alcohol while water dilutes it, women’s organs experience more injury. Women also have lower levels than men of two enzymes that metabolize alcohol. This makes alcohol absorption into the bloodstream faster for women. So the average female body is inherently at elevated risk of suffering due to excessive alcohol consumption.
Opioids and Women
Opioid addiction also has a unique impact on women. In 2010 a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found:
- Women were more likely to be prescribed opioids than men
- Women were more likely to continue opioid use long-term
Data from one study shows that women between 40-59 years old have the highest death rate from opioid use among women. Another study in the Journal of Pain on chronic pain patients prescribed opioids claimed:
- Women’s increased risk of opioid misuse was related to emotional issues, such as depression and anxiety
- Men’s opioid misuse was more commonly due to legal and behavioral problems
And finally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women are more likely to:
- Have chronic pain
- Be prescribed prescription painkillers
- Be prescribed higher doses than men of painkillers
- Become dependent more quickly than men
Data from the CDC also reveals that between 1999 to 2010:
- 48,000 women died of prescription-related overdoses
- Prescription overdose deaths among women increased over 400%
- Prescription overdose deaths among men increased by 237%
But it isn’t just prescription opioids that pose a severe threat to women’s health. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that between 2010 and 2013 heroin overdose deaths among women tripled.
The Strength of Women in Recovery
While women do experience addiction differently, women also have an incredible strength in recovery from addiction. Not only does addiction affect women differently physically through their health, it also puts them in different positions with very real risks. It is not uncommon for women who struggle with addiction to experience some form of trauma while using drugs or drinking, and many women also use drugs to cope with pre-existing traumas. The ability for women to face such intimate adversity, both physically, mentally and emotionally and fight to get better is truly amazing.
All over the world there are women not only working to overcome their own struggles with drugs, alcohol, mental health disorders and trauma but also fighting to help other women be empowered in their own lives. It takes true strength to be a woman in this world, and for women in recovery that strength helps to change lives every day.