Women and Addiction
As the stigma of addiction begins to lessen, more studies and stories are being released explaining the reasons for addiction in our culture. In specific, women have unique realities – both physiologically and societally – that differ from men, which researchers have been identifying lead them to addiction.
Overall, studies still show that more men in the United States are dependent on drugs and alcohol than women, about 20% of men suffering versus between 7% and 12% of women.
However, the dangers of addiction have been shown to be significantly greater for women primarily because of their physiology. Women weigh less than men, which means that alcohol affects them quicker and with more severity. In addition, women typically store more fatty tissue, where alcohol is retained while it is filtered from the system. Finally, two enzymes which help to break down alcohol – alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase – are lower in women, leading to more absorption into the bloodstream. Hormonal differences in women are also highly influential on the potential negative side effects of substance abuse. Hormones have also been shown to affect relapse rates in women as it affects their emotions, urges and will-power during abstinence.
Experts have concluded that women develop dependency and physical deterioration much more rapidly than men do too, leading to earlier onset problems like brain atrophy and liver damage. In addition, a theory known as “telescoping” identifies that women appear to more rapidly accelerate from the first drink or drug to full-blown dependency than their male counterparts.
Women also are more susceptible to emotional or physical trauma, which if experienced, makes them highly susceptible to substance abuse and addiction as a means to self-medicate. Some of these experiences include violence, sexual abuse, trauma and low self-esteem, just to name a few. In a recent study, 74% percent of addicted women reported sexual abuse and 52% percent reported physical abuse in their personal histories. Addiction is similarly apparent in women suffering with a co-occurring disorder such as anorexia, bulimia or bipolar disorder.
But increasingly, substance abuse has unquestionably become a mainstream affliction – not just affecting women who are genetically disposed to addiction or those with a history of emotional trauma. Stay-at-home-moms, sorority girls and high-functioning professional women have become the latest wave of sufferers of substance abuse. The number of DUI arrests of women rose 30% between 1998 and 2007, helping support the claim that with a rise in equality, expectation and responsibility, modern-day -women are, like never before, increasingly more at risk of addiction.
Some Societal Reasons for Increased Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Women are being introduced early-on in high school and college to prescription stimulants and painkillers, as well as alcohol and illicit drugs such as marijuana to alter their mood, paving the way for a future of potential dependence.
Modern day medicines like Adderall and Ritalin, which are commonly prescribed as ADHD medication, are readily available and have become widely acceptable stimulants for students and professionals alike. Glamour magazine reported just this month (September 2015) that “Women using them are trying to sculpt their best selves—the smartest, the most productive, the thinnest, the most social.”
Needless to say, adolescent women are binge drinking earlier and with more frequency than ever. However, studies have shown a dramatic increase of professional women binge drinking on a regular basis. In fact, one study showed that professional women are 19% more likely to binge drink at home than non-professional women. Overall, it is believed twice as many professional women binge drink regularly than the general female population. Some of this is believed to be due in part to rising responsibility and stress in the workplace, in addition to opportunities to indulge with co-workers after hours.
And on the home front, it is not uncommon for mothers to fall into the grips of loneliness, monotony, boredom, depression and a loss of self. Many turn to alcohol or prescription drugs to quell their emotions, or stimulants to increase productivity. As these behaviors become more accepted, especially when shared between similar social groups, it can easily lead to a loss of control and dependency.
And the false safety of prescription drugs are also contributing to an alarming rise in overdoses and hospital visits. Chemically speaking, Adderall and Ritalin are practically identical to cocaine. When mixed with alcohol, this combination can easily result in death. “Every day, nearly 400 people visit the emergency room after mixing drugs and alcohol”, Glamour reports. Many women are not aware of the uncontrollable effects of mixing prescription drugs and alcohol, and unwittingly self-administer combinations that can cause blackouts and overdose.
Rehabilitation Programs for Women
Most professionals agree that both women and men stand the same likelihood of rehabilitation regardless of undergoing a gender-specific program. Comfortability should first be addressed, and if a gender-specific program feels safer for the individual, it would certainly benefit them to enroll in a program that caters to females only.
However, the most important factor when reviewing a facility is understanding the therapy programs available, which can include specializations such as trauma, eating disorders, psychiatric programs, PTSD and family services, to name a few. Facilities that offer specialized therapy for co-occurring disorders, together with addiction rehabilitation, offer the best opportunity for sustained recovery.