women and addiction

Women and Addiction: How Women Experience Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 19 million females eighteen or older use illicit drugs in any given year. In this statistic, the word illicit means both the use of drugs that are illegal as well as the misuse of prescription drugs.

Many people are aware of the growing problem with opioids in the United States. However, it isn’t as commonly known that women are the fastest-growing segment of substance users in the U.S.

There are both biological and cultural reasons why women experience addiction differently than men. Are you a woman that is suffering from an addiction? If so, it’s important to understand that there are specific considerations for substance abuse among females.

Are you interested in learning more about women and addiction? Let’s take a look at everything you need to know.

Addiction and Gender: How Does Addiction Differ for Men and Women?

The primary focus of much addiction research for decades has been the relationship that men have with drugs and alcohol. However, a number of US organizations started requiring that women be included in studies starting in the 1990s. Since then, researchers have been finding that there are important differences in how men and women experience addiction.

Experts believe that both sociological and biological differences account for these different experiences. The sociological aspects have to do with, among other things:

  • Relationship dynamics
  • Childcare responsibilities
  • The stigma surrounding addiction

In terms of biological differences, this largely has to do with average body composition and size as well as estrogen and testosterone production.

Men and boys are nearly twice as likely to have a drug or alcohol addiction than women or girls, with rates at 11.5% and 6.4%, respectively.

While men might be more likely to develop an addiction, women are more likely to transition from abuse to dependence and addiction. This is known as telescoping. They are also more likely to go through this process faster than men.

Women tend to be more likely to use illicit substances as a form of self-medication. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to use drugs and alcohol in order to belong to a group or due to peer pressure.

In terms of recovery, men have a higher likelihood of experiencing more intense alcohol withdrawal symptoms than women.

They also typically “stabilize” their drug or alcohol addiction at doses that are lower than the stabilizing point for women. On the other hand, women are at a higher risk of overdose as well as negative side effects than men are. Lastly, women have a higher chance of relapse than men do.

(If you or someone you know has been operating a vehicle while under the influence, it’s important to understand just how dangerous this is. Check out this article to learn more.)

What Types of Addictions Are Most Common Among Women?

Many people immediately think of men when they think of individuals with substance use disorder. However, women are a growing segment of the population that struggles with drug and alcohol use issues. Let’s look at some of the substances that women most commonly develop addictions with.


The most common substance that is abused in the U.S., alcohol is one of the more common drugs that women develop an addiction with. Alcohol is legal and more socially acceptable than other drugs. Women can, therefore, use alcohol for a variety of reasons including helping them feel more sociable, outgoing, and confident.

While many people can maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol, others can develop an addiction over time. Alcohol stays in women’s systems longer than men because they tend to have more fat and less water in their bodies than men do. Women are also not equipped with the same levels of enzymes that help to process alcohol, meaning that they tend to absorb alcohol faster than men.


Men and women abuse stimulants at similar rates. However, women are more likely to develop patterns of regular use with stimulants than men, which can lead to addiction.

Drugs like Adderall, methamphetamine, and cocaine are common stimulant drugs that are abused. One of the reasons that women will use this type of drug is to help them lose weight. These drugs can suppress a person’s appetite, making them able to eat less food and lose weight quickly.

Women also might develop stimulant use issues by starting to use them as energy enhancers. Some women claim that these drugs can help them be more productive while balancing many different responsibilities including child care, work, and home care.

At New Method Wellness, we offer a wide range of treatment methods with the goal of balanced and holistic healing. You can learn more about our addiction treatment methods here.


Depressant drugs have sedative qualities and are often used to promote regular sleep, ease stress, and cause anxieties. However, these drugs are extremely addictive and therefore should only be used as prescribed by a doctor on a short-term basis. Even then, it’s possible to become addicted in spite of following a doctor’s orders.

Tranquilizers and benzodiazepines (benzos) are two common types of depressant drugs. Two out of every three prescriptions for tranquilizers are given to women. This is related to the fact that women are more prone to co-occurring issues having to do with anxiety and panic.

These drugs are incredibly addictive and quite dangerous. Unlike some other addictive drugs, the withdrawal from depressants isn’t just extremely uncomfortable and difficult, but also life-threatening.


Opioid drugs like OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin are more frequently prescribed to women than men. These are perhaps the most addictive substances available, with the possibility of building a dependence in as little as two days. Women are more likely than men to require emergency medical treatment for opioid abuse and addiction than men are.

According to the CDC, roughly eighteen women in the U.S. die every day due to an overdose on a prescription painkiller. Men are more likely to die of an overdose on prescription painkillers. However, the number of deaths from painkiller overdoses among women has been sharply rising.

What Are the Most Common Reasons That Women Develop Addictions?

While different individuals might fall into addiction for a variety of reasons, there are some circumstances that are more common than others when it comes to women who develop substance abuse disorders.

One common reason that women use drugs is to reduce the stress that results from social pressure. Some women can feel pressure to be perfect and “have it all,” such as being a career woman, an ideal mother, the manager of domestic issues, and so on.

Women can also develop addictions to drugs in an effort to lose weight in the face of a fast-paced, stressful, and vanity-driven world.

Other women might turn to drugs in order to impress the men in their lives. There are stereotypes about some drugs being so hardcore that only men can handle them. Some women, therefore, try to prove their ability to handle such substances in order to gain attention and approval.

Self-medication is also a common reason that women abuse drugs and alcohol. Anxiety and depression are two fairly common mood disorders. Women with these disorders may start to use substances in order to temporarily relieve their symptoms.

Unfortunately, this is like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. Drug use and addiction can actually exacerbate behavioral health problems.

Another reason that women might develop substance use disorders is because of sexual trauma they experienced in their lives. This is another form of self-medication, and can only make the problems these women suffer much worse in the long run.

When it comes to alcohol, women can sometimes feel pressured to drink the same amount as their male friends and partners. However, men and women process alcohol differently. They, therefore, respond to the same amount of alcohol differently.

It is also the case that women tend to have a lower body mass. This means that they can be much more affected by the same amount of alcohol that a male counterpart drinks.

Women and Addiction: Is It Time for You to Get Your Life Back?

If you or a woman you love is struggling with addiction, it’s important to understand that there are specific considerations to take into account when it comes to women and addiction. At New Method Wellness, we focus on addressing the individual needs of each patient. Through our evidence-based treatment methods, we help people take the first step into the rest of their lives.

Are you ready to regain control of your life? If so, contact us today.

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