For decades, research on addiction and alcoholism has been generic. All the findings were concluding for both males and females, and thus the treatment plans were followed accordingly for both.
It was not until the 1990s when concerned agencies probed studies to be conducted on both genders separately. Biologically and socially, men and women function differently, so it was ridiculous to assume that this phenomenon will present itself exactly the same in both genders.
Psychologists put their heads together to study the causes why men and women, as separate groups, are more likely to become addicts. While scientists studied the response of hormones and chemicals in the body and mind to see the difference in how a substance reacts in each gender.
This groundbreaking study, and what has followed after, opened vast opportunities for women seeking help. As mentioned above, the circumstances that force addiction and the reaction of the body of each gender demands different approaches for sobriety; many rehabilitation centers launched programs for women only. They changed their detox plans and addiction treatments for both genders based on the substance the addict uses and their stage of addiction. One of the most notable centers is the Palm Beach Institute that caters to both genders and has successfully helped women fight addiction.
To better understand these differences, we have broken down the entire progression of addiction in this article. To microscopically see the problem women face will help us understand how the journey of addiction is more harmful for this particular gender.
Reasons for Abuse:
The social construction of our society has fixed certain roles for both genders. The responsibilities and the day-to-day lifestyle have always been different. Although, in recent times, the gap is being bridged. Yet, there are some differences that inhibit men and women from being socially diverse. Addiction is progressive, but it starts off differently for everyone. Here, again, studies showed that the reasons contributing to addiction were different in both genders. Some are mentioned below.
Men consume to:
- Establish social bonds
- Improve certain positive emotions
Women consume to:
- Reduce stress
- Fight any negative emotion
- Move on from any past trauma
- Treat depression and anxiety
While the male/female ratio of alcohol abuse is 3:1, women are more likely to develop addiction to stimulants, opioids and prescription drugs. This is because women are more likely to see a therapist regarding their mental health problems (reasons listed above). They are prescribed over-the-counter medication, which leads to addiction.
Effects of Abuse:
Scientists have seen a dissimilar progression of addiction in males and females as the effect of each drug shows differently. More research is still to be done, but different Addiction Psychiatrists have noticed how quickly women’s health deteriorates with abuse disorder compared to men. Lantie Elisabeth Jorandby, a certified Addiction Psychiatrist, stated that the women she saw struggling with alcohol use disorder for two years were in a much more horrid state mentally and physically compared to men who have been abusing alcohol for over 5 to 10 years. These women were suffering from one or more chronic conditions.
The biological explanation is that women have different levels of hormones, body weight, fatty tissue and percentage of water than men.
- Women develop a dependence on Opioids much faster than men due to a heightened dopamine response in the brain.
- For Alcohol, women experience stronger effects in lesser amounts than men due to lower body weight and water percentage. This results in women developing more chronic diseases quicker than men. The rate of death is 50% to 100% higher for women than men (diseases, suicide, and accidents)
- The effects of Marijuana show spatial memory impairment may be greater in women, while men seem to exhibit greater Marijuana-induced highs.
- Hormones explain the biological differences between men and women with stimulant addictions. For example, women tend to experience more cravings and are more likely to relapse due to changes in hormone production during the menstrual cycle.
Barriers to Seeking Help:
The family dynamics in many cultures make women the central figure of households. It is expected of them to show morality even in the toughest situations. Women suffering from substance abuse feel shame and guilt. They generally downplay their consumption and constantly try to quit, yet they relapse every time as this guilt drives them to get high/drunk again. To accept they need help seems like a huge task for them.
Another reason why women have difficulty getting treatment is because many women today are still not financially independent and thus cannot afford professional help. As a result, they have to rely on others to pay for their treatment, which in most cases is rejected by either a partner or a family member, who takes shame in the fact that the woman of their house is an addict.
Also, since women still do the majority of the parenting, seeking help seems like disrupting their family life and their children’s needs. Even though their addiction has already disturbed their family, they feel their presence is what matters for children, even if they aren’t in their senses most of the time.
The mind and the body of the female gender works and function differently. These differences and the social dynamics of our lives force women to suffer way more than their counterparts. Substance abuse disorder has proven to be more destructive for women. This research has helped addiction therapists and psychiatrists find ways to make the journey to sobriety more tailored to the needs of the women.