How Gender Plays a Role in Addiction - Palmetto Addiction Recovery Center


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Although drug addiction is without question equally devastating for both men and women, studies show that males and females are affected differently by this disease and they tend to be drawn to different drugs. Research indicates that gender affects a person's response to drugs and their likelihood of falling into addiction and requiring treatment.

Studies on Drug Addiction

Studies focusing on drug addiction in females didn’t start until the 1980's. Up until then studies had only been done on men. Tammy L. Anderson, PhD, points out in paper, Drug Use and Gender, male drug abuse set the standard for addiction studies until the 1980s when female use of drugs had increased to the point where there was enough comparative data to do a valid analysis. Researchers were then able to determine how drug abuse affected females in different ways than males. Findings from those early comparative studies showed that drug addiction was more common in men than women. In addition:

Nationwide surveys up to the present show that males abuse of drugs continue to show that they are at higher rates for abuse than females. Studies held by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated that close to 12 percent of American males age 12 and older were currently using illegal drugs, compared with just over 7.3 percent of females in the same age group. Multi-drug use was also more common in males than in females.

gender and drug addiction

According a survey by Monitoring the Future, a group tracking drug use among adolescents and young adults since 1975, says that illicit drug abuse is has continued to be more common among high school and college age males than females. Nine percent of male high school seniors reported that they use marijuana daily, while less than 4 percent of females are daily users. A disturbing report stated that 8th to 10th grade girls tend to abuse drugs at the same rate as boys.

Male vs. Female

Accounts for the difference in male and female drug use do vary, however, research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that the use of drugs in males at an earlier age is not about susceptibility to substance abuse, but because males have more opportunities and are more likely to have drug abusers in their social and peer groups. Studies show that girls are most often introduced to drugs by boys in their peer groups. Another study by NIDA shows that once initiated into drug use, males and females are equally likely to continue using.

Although males start using drugs more frequently and at an earlier †age, studies show that females become addicted more quickly once introduced to drugs. This is a phenomenon researchers call ‘telescoping’. Women also tend to relapse at higher rates after going through drug rehab, and they suffer from more serious consequences to their health, occupational status, relationships, and finances.

As studies focusing on the addiction rates between women and men continue, the question is still being sought after. The specific reason for these differences continues to be investigated. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology propose that the specific differences between the female and male brain chemistries could account for a woman being more easily susceptible to certain drugs including meth and cocaine.

Some studies focus on other disorders such as mood, anxiety, and eating disorders which are all higher in women than in men. These studies are looking into the possibility that these disorders may predispose females to become addicted to certain substances and why it is more difficult for them to stay off drugs once they have been through a rehab program.

As an example, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, did a study that found depression is twice as common in females as in males. Women are also more likely to become addicted to prescription painkillers, tranquilizers, and alcohol common drugs of abuse among people who suffer from mood disorders and anxiety. Psychiatric conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, anorexia, and bulimia are associated with an increased risk of substance abuse. †In addition, with†substance abuse being more prevalent among women, the increase in those specific disorders may be partly responsible for a woman's increased vulnerability to chemical dependence.

Harvard Medical School reports the following results on male and female drug use:

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