Gender Differences In Drug Addiction And Treatment Rates

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Men and women are both impacted by issues of mental health and addiction, but men are receiving treatment at disproportionate rates compared to women due to differences among risk factors, awareness, and relapse rates.

Gender Differences In Addiction Treatment

Research shows that men tend to get addiction treatment more frequently than women do, which is due to issues related to child care, primary care attention, and types of addictions.

There is a large number of untreated, unassessed women in need of addiction treatment. Additionally, women are more willing to get treatment than men, but there are larger numbers of men in rehab centers.

Gender Differences In Substance Use

Men and women see different types of substance abuse. Research shows that men typically use drugs and drink at higher rates than women, though these statistics vary based on age group.

Types Of Substances Abused

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), men use almost every type of illicit drug (including illegal drugs and prescription drugs) more frequently than women.

This illicit drug use is also more likely to lead to non-fatal drug overdoses and overdose deaths in men than in women.

Heavy drinking and chronic alcohol abuse are also higher in men, though women often choose binge drinking over daily drinking, which is less noticeable.

Additionally, while adult men are more likely than adult women to abuse alcohol, rates of alcohol abuse are higher in adolescent girls aged 12 to 17 as compared to boys.

A similar effect applies to older adults: of adults aged 65 or older, women are three times more likely to abuse prescription painkillers than men.

Drug Use Statistics

Data shows higher rates of drug abuse in men nearly across the board.

The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics found the following drug use trends:

  • 22% of men used drugs in the past year, and 17% of women used drugs in the past year
  • 4% of men and 3.5% of women use opioids
  • 0.5% of men and 0.2% of women use heroin
  • 3.9% of men and 3.4% of women misuse prescription painkillers
  • 2.6% of men and 1.5% of women use cocaine
  • 0.8% of men and 0.4% of women use methamphetamines
  • 2.1% of men and 1.6% of women misuse prescription stimulants
  • 18.5% of men and 13.5% of women use cannabis
  • 2.2% of men and 2.0% of women misuse prescription tranquilizers
  • 0.5% of men and 0.5% of women misuse prescription sedatives

Gender Differences In Addiction Treatment Rates

While men and women may be equally exposed to risk factors, mental health problems, trauma, and other issues that lead to substance abuse, there are still gender disparities in treatment and treatment outcomes.

And though we tend to see higher rates of substance use in men, women are just as likely as men to develop a substance use disorder (SUD).

In 2014, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) report, a national survey analyzing data on admissions to U.S. rehab centers.

In 2011, only about 609,000 of the 1.84 million admissions to substance abuse treatment centers were women — that’s 66.9% male as compared to 33.1% female.

The TEDS report found the following differences in treatment admissions:

  • more men (36.5%) than women (25.9%) were admitted for alcohol use disorders
  • men and women were equally admitted for marijuana addiction
  • women aged 18 to 24 were more frequently admitted for methamphetamine/amphetamine abuse (8.9%) than men (3.7%)
  • more women (19%) than men (12.2%) were admitted for prescription pain reliever abuse

Factors That Affect Gender Disparities In Substance Abuse Treatment

Several factors affect sex differences in drug and alcohol use treatment and the addiction research behind many of these findings.

These factors include enhanced effects for women during the stages of addiction, women’s ability to attend treatment facilities, and relapse rates.

Drug Abuse: The Stages Of Addiction

A 2017 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) assessed the differences between genders as related to addiction.

Researchers have identified addiction as having a series of stages: initiation/acquisition, escalation, maintenance, abstinence or withdrawal, and relapse.

The following key findings resulted from this study when looking at the stages of addiction:

  • acquisition: Women are more likely than men to self-medicate with substances.
  • escalation: Women experience quicker rates of escalation, whereas their male counterparts escalate at a slower pace.
  • maintenance: Women stabilize at higher doses of drugs than men do, and the side effects are stronger for women than for men.
  • withdrawal: Women have increased negative effects during withdrawal, one of the most common causes of addiction relapse, and experience a greater stress response.
  • relapse: Women are more likely to relapse than men, as men have longer periods of abstinence.

Despite the heightened responses and consequences experienced by women at each stage of addiction, women are being treated less frequently, with less of a focus on aftercare and relapse prevention.

Ability To Attend Treatment

Experts have identified that, though there’s a great need for women’s drug treatment, they often face disproportionate circumstances and responsibilities as compared to men.

For one, women are typically the primary caretakers of their children and can’t afford to leave them for treatment.

While there are many men in treatment programs who are fathers, they’re typically not the primary caretakers and have more agency to attend a mental health or drug dependence program.

Many women face barriers to treatment such as:

  • being a single mother
  • substance abuse during pregnancy
  • mental health issues
  • a lack of awareness around women’s behavioral health issues and women’s-specific treatment
  • working one or more jobs to provide for their families
  • a lack of financial assets to attend treatment, or having to leave a rehab program early

Lack Of Focus On Women’s Health

As mentioned previously, women tend to experience higher rates of methamphetamine and amphetamine use, calling for better prevention and education about meth for young women.

Some women may self-medicate postpartum depression with marijuana, alcohol, or another drug, without the tools, mental health treatment, or education to pursue healthier alternatives.

Much of this is due to a lack of focus on women’s behavioral, mental, and physical health in doctors’ offices across the nation.

Because the statistics show higher rates of documented cases of men in addiction treatment, women are far less likely to be asked about substance abuse by their primary care providers.

This means a large percentage of women who need help are falling through the cracks, leading to high numbers of undocumented cases of mental illness and substance misuse.

Relapse Rates

Data suggests that women and men do not experience the same factors related to relapse, and in general, women are more likely to relapse.

The following factors lead to higher rates of relapse in women:

  • negative effects of returning home after treatment
  • greater withdrawal responses
  • previous experiences of assault and sexual abuse (about 91% of victims of rape and sexual assault are women)
  • greater sensitivity to stress and addiction triggers
  • less social support for women, as men tend to get greater support from coworkers, friends, and family members at home
  • less support for women from their partners for their abstinence
  • greater social stigma surrounding addiction in women

All of these factors contribute to loneliness and isolation, both of which increase the risk of relapse for anyone recovering from substance abuse.

Researchers say that once women have overcome these barriers, women and men have similar outcomes after treatment for substance use disorders.

There need to be more primary and addiction treatment providers promoting relapse prevention treatment programs for women for them to succeed after treatment, or get to treatment at all.

The Importance Of Gender-Specific Treatment

Now that researchers and clinicians are beginning to see the bigger picture of substance abuse and mental health-related problems among men and women, greater efforts should be made to provide gender-specific treatment services.

Both men and women need treatment for drug addiction and mental health.

Given that women have been found to experience elevated stress responses, a focus on anxiety disorders and addictive behaviors may prove significant in treating women moving forward.

The prevalence of drug and alcohol dependence among women should be destigmatized, discussed in clinical settings, and taught in schools and local clinics.

Additionally, family programs, family therapy, treatment for women with children, and other specialized treatment programs can help to close the gender gap in treatment.

Find Drug Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you love need an assessment, intervention, or treatment for substance abuse, help is available.

Many inpatient and outpatient rehab centers can discuss issues related to addiction and mental health in men and women, such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and eating disorders.

Reach out to our helpline today to learn more.

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