How Addiction Affects Men and Women Differently

How Addiction Affects Men and Women Differently

Psychology has demonstrated that men and women have differences in how they process information. When it comes to drug addiction where mental health plays a major part, there is also some important difference between men and women. 

For years, drug addiction surveys were conducted on men only. However, in the two decades, women are now also included in the research. Differences between genders have prompted researchers to formulate specialized treatment for addicted men and women.

Factors leading to substance addiction in men and women

A recent study suggests that men are more prone to substance addiction than women. However, other studies suggest women are more likely to develop fatal addictions than men. Several factors are at play for the two genders when it comes to addiction. They can be broadly categorized into biological and sociological factors.

Biological Factors

The biological composition of a human body is different for men and women. Structurally, body size, BMI, etc. determine the impact of drug use. Moreover, the hormonal composition is also different in men and women. Substance addiction has shown diverse effects on testosterone and estrogen.

Sociological Factors

Although men and women are a part of the same society, they have different roles to play. The perspective of society varies according to gender. For instance, childcare responsibilities, relationships, etc. may affect the mental health of women more than men. Problems like income inequality, sexual relationships, etc. can be mentally disruptive for men. Addiction stigma and societal unacceptability can also impact men and women in different ways.

Substance Addiction Differences Between Men and Women

Differences between genders are important. They often help researchers decode the diversity in the nature of addiction between men and women. It also determines their nature of recovery from addiction and even the chances of relapse. Here are the three stages that illustrate the difference in the nature of substance abuse in men and women.

Proneness to Addiction

Men are more prone to substance addictions than women. Men are also more likely to become victims of addiction due to societal factors like peer pressure or to feel included in a group.

Though women are less prone to substance use, they can reach a fatal stage when suffering from addiction. For women, substance addiction turns to substance dependence faster. In fact, studies have shown that women are more inclined to illicit drugs than men. Women also prefer the self-administration of drugs.

Coping with Addiction

Men are likely to recover faster from addiction than women. Although symptoms of substance abuse are more acute in men than women, they are capable of dealing with it better. Men can stabilize addiction at a lesser dosage compared to women. This is why the adverse impact of addiction is less visible in men initially as compared to women.

Admitting to substance addiction is more difficult for women. They are more prone to overdose. For women, substance misuse turns to substance dependence in a shorter time. Also, women are more prone to the side effects of a substance addiction than men. 

Diseases related to the heart and lungs are more common among addicted women than men. Women are also likely to suffer from these diseases much earlier than men.

Chance of Relapse

In general, men are capable of practicing abstinence from addiction for a longer period than women. Theoretically, chances of relapse are less for men once they have healed and returned to a normal way of life.

As substance addiction turns into substance dependence for women, withdrawal is quite painful for them. Also, women are less likely to cope with social stigma and temptations related to drug addiction. 

As a result, chances of relapse are higher for women even after complete recovery. Women are also often reported to have panic attacks, trauma, and anxiety during the recovery.

Effects of different Drugs in Men and Women

The fact that men are more prone to substance addiction than women doesn’t necessarily mean women are impacted less. The impact of drug addiction varies according to gender and type of drug. Here are some common types of substances used in addictions and their range of effect on men and women.

Opioids

Opioids are depressant forms of drugs that help to reduce sensitivity. Opioids primarily come in two types; prescribed opioids like pain relievers, sedatives, etc. and illegal opioids like heroin. Historically women are more likely to be affected by opioids. However, recent research indicates that this gender gap is closing.

Women are more sensitive to pain and are likely to experience chronic pain more frequently than men. For these reasons, prescribed opioids are more easily accessible to women than men. Due to higher dopamine response in a woman’s brain, she is more likely to develop a dependence on opioids than men. However, studies suggest that men are more prone to prescribed opioid overdose than women.

In the case of illicit drugs, women are more likely to self-medicate in situations of anxiety and trauma. Compared to men, women who use banned opioids tend to be younger women. Also, women are less likely to administer injection drugs. Women can also stabilize their addiction with smaller doses for a short period.

Alcohol

The rate of alcohol addiction was always higher in men until recently when the number of alcohol addicts in women has increased. Alcohol addiction is perhaps the most common form of substance addiction among both genders.

In fact, women of the age group 12 to 20 have shown to be higher binge drinkers compared to their male counterparts of the same age group. As women have a lower body weight compared to men, alcohol misuse is more likely to be fatal compared to men. Women are more likely to experience alcohol addiction-related health disorders earlier than men. Moreover, the rate of crimes related to alcohol addiction such as sexual assault, physical abuse, homicide, etc. is higher for women than men.

Smoking

Men and women have shown different behavioral aspects when it comes to smoking and nicotine addiction. Studies suggest that women are less prone to smoking addictions than men. Women smoke fewer cigarettes compared to men. Also, women prefer to smoke cigarettes with lower nicotine content than men. This may be because they are more sensitive to nicotine. For women, anxiety, mood swings, and stress are the prime causes of nicotine addiction.

However, women are more likely to develop diseases related to nicotine addiction like lung disorders, heart diseases, pulmonary diseases, stroke, etc. Also, smoking addiction can lead to depression in women more often than men.

Marijuana

The rate of marijuana use among men is significantly higher than women. According to a self-reported survey, the number of addicted men was almost three times the number of women. However, the impacts of marijuana are different for both genders.

While women are more likely to experience trauma and panic attacks after prolonged marijuana use, men can develop personality disorders. Mental health is a serious issue with regular marijuana use. Anxiety and depression are common among both genders during the withdrawal session. Men are more likely to develop additional mental disorders than women.

Cocaine and Meth

These are stimulant forms of drugs that are equally abused by men and women. However, studies have shown that women are more likely to misuse stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine at a younger age than men. Hormones play a role in this type of substance misuse.

Hormonal changes in women during pregnancy or menstrual cycle are likely to increase their cravings for stimulants. As a result, women get addicted to stimulants sooner than men and also prefer larger doses. This often leads to an overdose of stimulants in women compared to men.

The effects of stimulant abuse are almost similar in men and women. Both the sexes are likely to lose their ability to solve problems and concentration which affects their school or work performance. This also impacts family relationships and other responsibilities.

Ecstasy

Ecstasy or MDMA is also a stimulant form of a drug that is equally abused by both genders. It is known to offer hallucinations and causes severe depression with long term use. However, women tend to experience hallucinations more intensely than men after abusing Ecstasy. For men, Ecstasy leads to higher blood pressure more often than for women. Women are likely to suffer from depression after use compared to men.

Ecstasy is known to cause extreme dehydration in the body and also reduces the body’s ability to absorb water. When a victim of Ecstasy drinks water to hydrate his or her body, it can lead to swelling of brain cells causing death.

Addiction Recovery Differences Between Men and Women

Detoxifying the body is the primary step to recovery. Rehabilitation comes at a later stage and depends on the health condition of the victim. There are several treatments for substance addicts like personal recovery plans, therapies, continuum care, relapse prevention procedure, etc. These methods are safe and accessible for addicts who want to recover.

Have More Questions?

Though the impacts of substance addiction are different on men and women, treatment can save anyone’s life. Many treatment options are available to help both men and women. Recovery is a second chance to regain your life and everyone should welcome this opportunity in any form. Contact us for more information.

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MDDavid Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.