Until around the 1990s, research into addiction mainly centered on men. As such, our understanding of addiction in men vs women has been limited until recently.
Science tells 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.
Women seem to be sensitive to certain drugs and have a higher incidence of comorbidity, while men experience more peer pressure and tend towards stress-related drug use. Men and women respond differently to treatment, too. This is why experts recommend gender-specific rehab.
Read on to find out about addiction in men vs women and why single-sex drug and alcohol 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 have a problematic relationship with alcohol. Fast-forward to the end of the century and this figure 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 drink and 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. Additionally, in several studies, women appear to be more susceptible to the physical effects of substances but less susceptible to peer pressure.
Addiction in Men vs Women
Hormonal and biological distinctions in men and women explain the gender differences in addiction. These variations 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 alcohol misuse and binge drinking than women, except for young people between 12 and 20. Long-term drinking is 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.
Research suggests that 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 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.
Studies in rodents have shown that females might be more susceptible to the reinforcing effects of drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Additionally, these drugs might do more damage to a woman’s heart and blood vessels.
On the other hand, men tend to show abnormalities of blood flow in the brain after prolonged use, which women don’t seem to exhibit. It appears that something specific to the female body protects the brain against the effects of cocaine.
Women are more likely to use methamphetamine for weight management than men. Studies have also shown that women respond better to treatment for meth addiction than men do.
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.
In 2016, 27 men per day and 19 women per day died of a prescription opiate overdose. 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.
Many men and women would prefer to be in a single-sex facility, which is one of the main reasons it’s so effective.