gender differences in substance abuse

Addiction in Men vs Women

Until around the 1990s, research into addiction mainly centered on men. As such, our understanding of addiction in gender differences addiction treatment has been limited until recently.

In terms of a substance use disorder, women tend to be sensitive to certain illicit drug use and have a higher incidence of comorbidity, while men experience more peer pressure, substance dependence and tend towards stress-related drug use. Men and women respond differently to addiction treatment, too.

Substance abuse treatment is one of the many programs Calusa offers for young men suffering from drug and alcohol abuse.  

Read on to find out about addiction treatment in men and women and why single-sex drug and alcohol use treatment is more effective.

What Are the Main Gender Differences in Addiction?

In the first half of the 20th century, men were approximately three times more likely to suffer from alcohol abuse and seek treatment. Fast-forward to the end of the century and this figure for substance abuse has plummeted to 1.2 times more likely.

Even though it appears women are just as likely to develop substance use disorders,  societal and logistical factors previously prevented them from getting access to alcohol and illicit drugs.  

Even though women appear to be almost as likely to develop an addiction, the reasons tend to be quite different. In particular, there’s a higher prevalence of addiction among disadvantaged women — those with poor mental health, low social status, or a history of abuse, for example.  

Men are also less likely to experience comorbid disorders, where drug abuse and an antisocial personality disorder or mood disorders, for example, are one.  Additionally, in several studies, women appear to be more susceptible to the physical effects of substances but less susceptible to peer pressure.

substance use disorder & opioid use disorder

Addiction in Men vs Women

Hormonal and biological sex differences in men and women explain the gender differences in addiction. The biological differences also mean different substances have a slightly different impact on each gender, which also contributes to addiction in men and women.


Men have higher rates of substance use, specifically alcohol misuse and binge drinking than women, except for young people between 12 and 20. Long-term drinking health consequences are significantly more harmful to a woman’s health than a man’s. As such, alcohol-related deaths are somewhere between 50% and 100% higher in females than in men.

Drinking even one drink a day makes women who are most at risk of developing breast cancer more susceptible to getting it. Men are more likely to become violent as a result of using alcohol, and both genders are more likely to commit a crime if they drink heavily.   A treatment program, like what Calusa offers, is a safe bet if you or a loved one is suffering from substance use.


Gender-specific analyses suggest that there are differences in substance use and abuse.  Women are less inclined to inject heroin than men and also tend to use less for a shorter amount of time. Many women who use heroin, or illicit drugs, do so for the first time because of a romantic relationship. Men have better short-term survival rates related to the drug, and women have better long-term survival rates.  Even though these significant differences exist, overdose deaths are on the rise, no matter your sexual orientation.


Studies in rodents have shown that females might be more susceptible to the reinforcing effects of drugs such as cocaine, and methamphetamine. Additionally, women compared to men, these drugs might do more damage to a woman’s heart and blood vessels.

On the other hand, one of the differences in substance use, men tend to show abnormalities of blood flow in the brain after prolonged use, which women don’t seem to exhibit. Sex and gender differences are key with stimulant use.  It appears that something specific to the female body protects the brain against the effects of cocaine.

Also, women are more likely to use methamphetamine, or prescription drugs for weight management than men. Studies have also shown that women respond better to treatment for meth addiction than men do.

Sleeping Pills

Women are more likely to check into rehab for CNS depressants such as benzodiazepines and z drugs. They’re also more likely to overdose on medication prescribed for mental health conditions than men. This might be because women are at a higher risk for the anxiety- and insomnia-related conditions these medications are prescribed for.

Prescription Opioids

In 2016, from the misuse of prescription opioids, 27 men per day and 19 women per day died. Although the number of men addicted to and dying as a result of these drugs is higher, the rate of women using them is growing faster. 

Why Is Gender-Specific Treatment So Effective?

The more research is conducted into treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, the more we realize that customization is one of the most critical factors in a successful recovery. When you feel like you’re getting a rehab experience that suits your needs, you’re more likely to stick with it.

Science and clinical trials tell us there are key gender differences in addiction. While men have higher rates of dependence on drugs and alcohol, the gap appears to be closing among the younger population. 

This is why experts recommend gender-specific rehab.  Many men and women would prefer to be in a single-sex facility, which is one of the main reasons it’s so effective.

Addiction Treatment for Men in Fort Myers, Florida

If you’d like to find out more about addiction in men vs women, call our men’s rehab in Fort Meyers, FL today at 844-254-9664.