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.
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.