How drug addiction affects women and men differently

8:18 AM, Apr 18, 2019

Drug addiction hurts everyone, from the addict to family members and friends. However, not every addiction is the same and, in fact, every addict has a unique story.

Part of that unique story is the addict’s gender. It might not seem obvious, but there are differences in the ways that men and women use and react to drugs.

“National data consistently show that gender is an important factor to consider when examining patterns of substance abuse, such as overall prevalence rates and substances of choice,” the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says.

Use and abuse

Men are more likely to use illegal drugs – including misusing prescription drugs – and are more likely to need medical attention or to die from overdoses than women, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Part of the reason may be that boys tend to be exposed to drugs younger than girls, according to a study in Addiction journal. Once that exposure happens, though, boys and girls are at the same risk to continue using drugs. Another study in Substance Use and Misuse journal found that boys were more likely to be offered drugs in public, girls in private, and that the people offering drugs were different.

"Boys are more at risk than girls for offers at a younger age, and more likely to be offered alcohol, marijuana, and 'hard' drugs by their parents or by other males – relatives, acquaintances, and strangers," researcher Dreama Moon told the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "On the other hand, girls tend to be at risk for offers from other girls – acquaintances or family members of roughly the same age – or, to a lesser extent, from older boyfriends."

Despite the differences, women and men have the same chances of developing a drug use disorder, according to a study in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology journal.

“Research has shown that women often use drugs differently, respond to drugs differently, and can have unique obstacles to effective treatment as simple as not being able to find child care or being prescribed treatment that has not been adequately tested on women,” the NIDA says.

In fact, all phases of drug addiction – initiation, escalation, addiction and relapse – are connected to gender, according to researchers.

“Females begin regularly self-administering licit and illicit drugs of abuse at lower doses than do males, use escalates more rapidly to addiction, and females are at greater risk for relapse following abstinence,” according to a study in Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology journal.


Women are less likely to seek treatment than men, according to research published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Those that do try to get treatment run into more roadblocks than men, such as economic barriers, lack of time because of family responsibilities, and transportation problems.

“Both men and women must overcome the stigma associated with seeking treatment, but women are particularly susceptible to feeling stigmatized,” the researchers write.

Because gender, as well as other individual differences, matter, it’s important that addicts receive individualized care when working toward sobriety.

“Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers have been around for decades, and most offer the same types of treatments,” says Pacific Bay Recovery, a San Diego treatment center. “If you check into one of these facilities, you’ll use the same plan that people have used for years. The people at these facilities don’t see you as an individual. You’re just another addict they need to push through the program.”

Instead of entering a cookie cutter rehab that may not help in the specific ways a man or woman – an individual – needs, it’s important to choose a place that will customize the process and elevate the chances of success.

Pacific Bay Recovery understands the challenge of watching a friend, family member or loved one struggle with addiction. We are here to help. Visit for more information.

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