Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD MPH on 6/22/2021
The Differences Between Men and Women when it comes to addiction
Men and women react to addictive substances somewhat differently. The differences directly link to the gender difference. Men and women are biologically different, so some substances will be more intense to one while less so. Additionally, some addictions are more prevalent to one gender over the other.
To clarify, individuals of the same sex will experience different substances based on several factors, but men and women specifically will face other influences. Gender and addiction play off one another more than many would have ever assumed. Throughout the years, studies and data analyzed show us the differences, which can help tailor treatment to the individual.
How Addiction Impacts Men and Women Differently
Substance abuse among gender varies for several reasons. There is no explicit answer stating that one gender is significantly more dependent than the other. Information collected in 2011 by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that men are more likely to face substance abuse after turning 18 while women are more likely to face substance abuse between the ages of 12 to 17.
The survey data showed that women in that 12 to 17 age group were admitted to emergency services primarily for alcohol abuse while men are more likely to be admitted for marijuana abuse. The number of women using addictive substances raises among women once they turn 65.
The latter mentioned survey shows that women that are 65 plus are three times more likely to use addictive prescription medication than men.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), 1.84 million individuals entered substance treatment in 2011. Women made up 609,000 of those individuals while the other 1.23 million were male. The organization found the following admittance numbers for substance addictions.
- Alcohol – Women accounted for 33.2 percent of alcohol admittance while men accounted for 42.3 percent.
- Heroin – Women accounted for 15.3 percent of heroin admittance while men accounted for 15 percent.
- Marijuana – Women accounted for 14.6 percent of marijuana admittance while men accounted for 19.9 percent.
- Prescription medication – Women accounted for 13.8 percent of prescription medication admittance while men accounted for 7.8 percent.
- Cocaine – Women accounted for 9.3 percent of cocaine admittance while men accounted for 7 percent.
- Methamphetamine – Women accounted for 8.6 percent of methamphetamine admittance while men accounted for 4.7 percent.
- Other – Women accounted for 5 percent of other substance addiction admittance while men accounted for 3.3 percent.
On the surface, it would appear that more men enter substance treatment, but they are the primary users of alcohol and marijuana. Women on the other hand check into rehab less but account for a majority of other substance addictions.
This brings up the question, who is more likely to fall into substance abuse: males or females?
Who is More Likely to Have an Addictive Personality?
Gender differences in substance abuse depend on the drug being used by an individual. The data presented by the SAMHSA shows that men are more likely to abuse marijuana and alcohol than women.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that cannabis is used more often by men because of the impact tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has on the male brain. Men are less susceptible to severe memory problems while women are. Data collected by the NIDA found that women are more likely to experience panic attacks and increased anxiety while under the influence of marijuana. They believe that THC interacts with women differently because of hormone production in the female brain.
On the flip side, women are more likely to abuse stimulant drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. The NDIA believes that estrogen is a leading cause of this. The increased dopamine production is more intense in female brains, leading to a quicker addiction. Additionally, women are shown to increase cocaine and meth dosage to maintain that original feeling. Research also found that the female brain has special protection against cocaine. There is a decrease in blood flow to the brains frontal areas of women’s brains, lessening the “detrimental effects of cocaine on the brain.” Both genders have shown similar consequences with stimulant abuse, but women have been shown to move to different drugs easier than men.
Furthermore, alcohol has a clear sign of separation. Men abuse alcohol at a higher rate than women do, but they begin doing so later in their life. Data shows that women are likely to engage in binge drinking more often between 12 and 20. One of the reasons many women stop drinking heavily is for health concerns. Women who consume large amounts of alcohol have shown increased chances of alcohol-related accidents, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, unprotected sex, and sexual assault. In addition, women who drink at least one alcoholic beverage a day are more likely to experience breast cancer.
Biological Differences in Men and Women with Addiction
There are several reasons that an individual becomes addicted to illicit substances. Upbringing is a huge influence on development. If you grow up watching a parent or guardian consume alcohol or use nicotine products, you are more likely to begin using them as well.
When surrounded by addictive substances, it will appear normal to a developing mind, no matter the gender. More individuals are likely to begin using at a younger age when surrounded by substances, which will carry into their grown adult life if not treated. As far as remaining addicted, biology will play a massive role.
The biology of a male and female are very different. Men react to drugs differently than women do, leading to certain substances being more addictive. As discussed earlier, cocaine is very addictive for omen because it interacts with the brain.
The NIDA explains that stimulants open blood vessels in female brains more, allowing the mind’s impact differently. Similarly to alcohol, men have a different biological makeup. It requires more alcohol for a male to become drunk because the two genders metabolize differently.
The research found that women who drink the same amount of alcohol as men will have a significantly higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level.
In addition, the National Library on Medicine (NLM) found that women are more likely to become addicted to prescription pain killers because of biology. Women endear chronic pain at a higher level than men. Many women begin using prescription medication for chronic pain and become addicted to the process.
The NIDA found similar data, finding that when men and women reported similar amounts of pain, women began using prescription medication, with or without a proper prescription. When the question arises, which gender has more addictive personalities, women tend to show more signs of addiction, but men will use it for longer periods.
Addiction Treatment Based on Gender
The NIDA reports that women who enter treatment tend to have fewer issues with substances themselves. Instead, women enter into addiction treatment due to the mental, behavioral and social consequences of addiction. Men, on the other hand, will enter treatment still struggling to overcome their addiction.
Data collected by the SAMHSA found that the number of women entering addiction treatment has slowly been on the rise. Overall, men are still more likely to participate in addiction treatment than women. While searching for treatment, it important to understand the most common kinds of treatment options. Additionally, treatment curriculums are usually not created based on gender. Some rehabs will have gender-specific groups as a way to separate men from women to process personal traumas. Regardless, drug and alcohol rehab treatment is effective for both men and women.
- Inpatient Treatment – Inpatient treatment is an effective treatment option that involves an individual living at a professional treatment facility under medical supervision. Individual and group therapies educate and socialize individuals. It is worth noting; there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” recovery program. It should be personalized and designed for you. A good program will change as your needs do.
- Outpatient Treatment – Outpatient treatment is a great option for individuals who have more control over their addiction. This kind of treatment is designed to help individuals who are leaving inpatient programs or individuals and do not need constant supervision. People in outpatient treatment often attend individual or group therapies daily or weekly. This method allows patients to continue productively living their life while also maintaining sobriety. Many outpatient treatments implement 12 step programs to incentivize individuals to stay clear of addictive substances.
About the Author
Tristan Kutzer studied journalism at the University of Wyoming. Tristan was involved with the athletics department at the university and is an avid photographer. His enjoyment for writing extends to high school when he realized it was his strong suit and grew that ability through his studies in journalism and working for multiple journalism publications. Tristan extends his passion for writing into the realm of addiction and mental health, hoping to provide empowerment through information.
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