While addiction is a problem that is found universally, there are various differences in addiction causes, manifestation, and treatment needs based on different populations. This is true for issues of addiction and treatment for men and women.

While men and women both experience addiction, there is variation in the way it is experienced, including the types of drugs more commonly used, the reasons for substance use and abuse, the consequences of addiction, and particular needs regarding treatment. While these generalizations do not mean that the differences are true across the board, they can help to illuminate certain trends and offer the opportunity to respond to the needs identified through analysis.

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The following helps to highlight some of the differences between men and women when it comes to addiction and treatment.

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Men

Substance Abuse Statistics

According to the most recent data gathered by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other organizations, the following facts and statistics apply to men regarding drug abuse:

  • Approximately 5 million men report past-year misuse of drugs or alcohol.
  • Men are less likely to seek treatment for abuse of sleeping aids (45 percent); however, they are more likely to seek help with addiction in general.
  • Men are more likely to develop addiction or substance abuse problems than women.
  • Men are more likely to develop a severe addiction disorder, more likely to exhibit co-occurring antisocial personality disorder, and have more occurrences of abuse of more than one substance.

These facts give just a glimpse of the prevalence and manifestation of drug abuse for men. There are other generalizations that can be drawn based on these concepts.

Reasons for Substance Abuse

According to Psych Central, men are more likely to use drugs to enhance positive moods, satisfy pleasure-seeking, or cope with problems in social situations or behavior. They’re also more likely to have a co-occurring antisocial personality disorder; however, it is not certain whether or not this increases the risk of drug use.

Because of the general body composition of men and their metabolism, it tends to take more of a drug or alcohol to lead to intoxication. As a result, men tend to take longer to develop addiction to substances than women do.

More Typical Drugs of Abuse

According to information from Harvard Medical School, men are more likely to use alcohol and nicotine. They are equally as likely as women to use stimulants, more likely to smoke marijuana on a daily basis, and more likely to engage in binge drinking.

Treatment and Outcomes

The general addiction treatment model seems to be based on treating men. For this reason, it can be easier for men to get access to treatment. Nevertheless, women who do get treatment tend to do better after a shorter period of time than men do. In addition, some studies have shown that men are more likely to relapse after treatment (32 percent) than women (22 percent), as reported by NIDA. This may indicate that the treatment model for men might need some adjustment to help achieve lower rates of relapse.

Aftercare

Some evidence points to the fact that men may require longer treatment times and are less likely to get help in case of a relapse. Because of this, aftercare may be more important in helping solidify relapse prevention tools and skills for men to help them transition from treatment back to daily life. Programs like sober housing, Contingency Management, and other motivational techniques can be included in treatment programs for both men and women to discourage relapse and bolster motivation and self-confidence in the ability to resist cravings and triggers.

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Women

Substance Abuse Statistics

Based on information from NIDA, drug abuse statistics and facts for women are slightly different than those for men:

  • About 15.8 million women report having used illicit drugs in the past year, while 4.6 million have misused prescription drugs.
  • Women are more likely to seek help for abusing sleep aids (55 percent); however, they are less likely to seek treatment in general.
  • Women develop substance abuse disorders more quickly than men, are more likely to have co-occurring anxiety disorders, and more likely to experience panic attacks.
  • Nicotine patch treatment for tobacco addiction is less likely to work for women.

Reasons for Substance Abuse

Based on information from Psych Central, when it comes to the causes of substance abuse for women, they are more likely to be focused around self-medicating for psychological or social pressures and problems. In addition, relationships, trauma, and family or home situations are more likely to have an effect on women’s decisions to use drugs. Women also tend to use stimulants like nicotine, cocaine, or meth to lose weight more than men do.

Women have a tendency to have co-occurring anxiety disorders, depression, or eating disorders, as well as borderline personality disorders. They also tend to become intoxicated on less of a substance and may develop an addiction more quickly than men. A study from Biology of Sex Differences proposes that this is because of differences between the sexes in the way the neural systems for motivation and reward are organized.

More Typical Drugs of Abuse

The Harvard Medical School information shows that women are more likely to abuse opioid medications for pain than men, and they are more likely to end up in the emergency room or overdose on these drugs. While they are no more likely to use stimulants than men, surveys show they are more likely to start using them at an earlier age.

While fewer women abuse alcohol compared to men, they are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, becoming inebriated on smaller amounts than men.

Women are also more likely to suffer more severe health and other consequences of drug abuse.

Treatment and Outcomes

Women are less likely to seek treatment, often because they have commitments that make it hard to pursue treatment, such as children who need care or work and home responsibilities. In addition, there is a high stigma against female addicts that can make it harder for women to get help.

However, according to the information gathered by Psych Central, once women are in treatment, they are just as likely as men to complete treatment and achieve recovery. Special services may help women to meet specific needs, such as social support, therapy for trauma, family therapy, and help with parenting information.

It can be important for many women in treatment to receive help at a facility that is meant for women only. If a woman has experienced trauma, being in a treatment program that includes men may actually be detrimental to the woman’s treatment. For this reason, successful treatment for many women may depend on the availability of these women-only programs.

Aftercare

There is some evidence that women are more likely to have shorter treatment times and to seek guidance after treatment is over and in case of a relapse, helping them to achieve better long-term rates of recovery. However, because addiction is a chronic illness with no cure, there is no guarantee for men or women that the end of treatment is more likely to result in long-term recovery. Aftercare can still provide additional tools and skills to help in relapse prevention. For women in particular, social involvement can be a major part of this effort.

In the end, women and men both do best when they receive treatment customized to meet their needs. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for any two individuals, and the differences between men and women can contribute to this need for specialized treatment. Nevertheless, for both sexes, recovery is possible with research-based, compassionate treatment based on specialized care.