How Addiction Affects Men and Women: Gender Specific Addiction Treatment

by Balboa Horizons | April 27, 2018

Substance abuse can affect anyone, but the individual circumstances surrounding addiction and recovery can vary significantly between individuals and groups. Gender is one factor that can make a big difference in addiction and recovery.

Because women and men process substances differently, use drugs for different reasons and encounter different problems during recovery, gender specific treatment programs are valuable in offering the specific care an individual needs. Many patients also find a gender specific inpatient program to feel safer and promote a better environment to focus on healing.

Biological and Social Factors Affect Substance Use

Men and women differ biologically, which affects the way that substances are processed. For example, women tend to have a lower alcohol tolerance due to their body composition, size and enzyme levels in the body. This can put women in a position of increased vulnerability to the effects of some substances.

Social factors also play a role in how addiction affects men and women differently. Social double standards, expectations, pressures and circumstances can work together to create an environment more likely to foster substance abuse problems. Additionally, the signs of addiction can vary between men and women, which can make identifying a problem and seeking help more challenging.

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gender specific addiction treatment

How Addiction Affects Men

Men are more likely than women to use illicit drugs, and more men than women per-capita struggle with addiction. A study by The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that nearly 40 percent of college-age men have used marijuana compared to less than 30 percent of women. Similarly, studies have shown a link between drinking and prescription drug abuse in men that does not seem as prevalent in women.

Men are less likely than women to partake in drug use as a social activity. Instead, men tend to be drawn toward substances for their specific effects. Because men may often struggle with expressing their emotions or admitting to mental health issues, substance abuse may be a form of self-medication to treat undiagnosed mental health problems or emotional pain.

Men may also consume drugs as a type of thrill-seeking behavior or to boost productivity and performance.

Because men may frequently struggle with admitting their problems or with reaching out for help, men’s addiction recovery programs must focus on creating an environment where men can feel comfortable seeking the help they need.

How Addiction Affects Women

Although men are more likely to abuse drugs and are often over-represented among addict populations, women struggle with addiction as well. Due to their lower tolerance and heightened sensitivity, women may become addicted to substances more quickly than their male counterparts and often struggle more with managing cravings and quitting a substance.

Women are also more likely to suffer from mental illness, especially depression and anxiety, and substance abuse can be intimately tied to these issues. Research also shows that women are more likely to engage in substance use for social purposes. This puts women at heightened risk of addiction if they have a partner who is addicted or are otherwise involved in an environment where addiction is common or normalized.

On a practical level, women may also face difficulties with receiving inpatient care. Women are often caretakers, and taking time away from a family to pursue addiction recovery is not always possible. Outpatient programs or programs that provide opportunities for child care can help bring more women into recovery.

It’s also important to note that women are at an increased risk of becoming victims of violence, especially sexual violence. This is especially true among the type of at-risk populations who often develop drug dependency. For this reason, many women are more comfortable in gender specific treatment programs and under the care of female doctors and staff.

The Importance of Gender Specific Addiction Treatment

Understanding how addiction affects women and men helps with identifying specific needs and opportunities individuals of each group may face when seeking recovery.

Men may struggle with admitting they have a problem or with getting the mental health services they need to stay clean. Women may struggle with the social stigma attached to drug use and face physiological barriers to recovery due to their reduced tolerance. In any case, having trained recovery experts available to deliver care based on an individual’s needs is the key to recovery.

Balboa Horizons offers gender specific treatment programs for both men and women. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help to manage substance problems and their co-occurring disorders.