Until very recently, medical bias led researchers to focus exclusively on how different health conditions and treatment modalities affected men with no regard as to whether women might experience things differently. Only in the 1990s did major US research institutions begin to require the inclusion of female study participants, but the change has already led to vital breakthroughs in how people think about addiction medicine. This article will offer a comparison of what researchers now know about how men and women experience addiction differently.
Why It Matters
By developing an understanding of sex and gender-based differences in how people experience addiction, researchers have begun to find ways to offer more effective treatment. Now, it’s possible to attend an addiction treatment facility for women that uses research-based treatment modalities designed to meet residents’ specific needs. Given that women are more likely than men to experience both severe substance abuse side effects and addiction relapse despite a lower overall prevalence of substance use disorders, they must have access to tools designed to help.
Historically, gender norms led to a higher rate of alcohol abuse among men, while women were more likely to abuse prescription drugs. More recently, though, women have been developing higher rates of alcohol abuse and binge drinking. Unfortunately, women are more likely than men to develop dependencies at lower levels of alcohol consumption. They are also more likely to experience alcohol-related injury and disease than men even after shorter periods of alcohol abuse. The death rate is also higher for women with alcohol use disorders.
As women have begun to develop rates of alcohol dependence more similar to those seen in the male population, men have begun to experience greater levels of opioid abuse. Statistically speaking, women are still more likely to be prescribed opioids due to an increased likelihood of experiencing chronic pain and more likely to develop a dependence due to a heightened dopamine response. However, more men now abuse opioids and fatally overdose as a result of that abuse than women. The primary differences now are that the women who struggle with opioid use disorders, particularly those involving heroin, tend to be younger than their male counterparts and less likely to use injectable drugs.
Stimulant Drug Addiction
Stimulants include not just illegal drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine but also prescription medications that can be used as drugs of abuse such as Ritalin and Adderall. Many of the differences in how men and women experience stimulant addictions are due to cultural factors. Men typically abuse stimulants to increase pleasure, while women usually become addicted when they start using them to increase energy so they can meet responsibilities or lose weight.
There are also biological differences in how men and women use stimulant drugs. Women tend to develop addictions to stimulants at a younger age, experience more cravings, and relapse after quitting more frequently. Researchers believe that hormones may explain these differences, including not just estrogen but also its dopaminergic effects.
Everyone Deserves Targeted Addiction Recovery Help
If there’s one thing that men and women have in common when it comes to substance abuse, it’s that they all deserve help getting on the road to recovery. The majority of conventional addiction recovery resources are designed based on older research that included only male participants, which makes it easier for men to find the resources they need. Because of how women experience addiction and recovery, they tend to see better long-term results when attending programs designed specifically for them.