Much of the focus on addiction is on men, and it is true that, on average, men do use drugs from an earlier age, more often and in larger amounts than women do. For example, one out of every five men develop alcohol dependence at some point in their lives while one in 12 women do. However, plenty of the women who have been affected by drugs and alcohol do use those substances at worrying levels and are struggling to overcome their addictions. Fortunately, more and more drug rehab centers are putting a focus on the differences between the genders as well as the impact of mental health and addiction in women. Mental health issues also tend to affect women in a different way than they do men.
Mental Health Issues in Women
Women suffer from certain mental health issues at a higher rate than men. For example, one in four women will receive treatment for depression while the ratio for men is one in 10. Women are also twice as likely as men to experience anxiety disorders. Both depression and anxiety are contributing factors to addiction.
One of the reasons why women have more significant mental health issues in a number of areas is due to lower serotonin levels and not being able to process it at as high a rate. This can often contribute to mood fluctuations. Additionally, women are more likely to experience hormonal fluctuations.
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Addiction Differences in Women
Compared to men, women experience the effects of alcohol much more quickly. Women can also develop things like liver disease, cardiovascular disease, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, alcoholic hepatitis and brain damage easier than men. Additionally, women are more likely to die after overdosing on mental health medications such as those that treat depression, anxiety and insomnia.
It should also be noted that, although women do tend to use drugs and alcohol less often than men, those who do will often have their use escalate to the level of addiction at a quicker rate than is the case for men.
Some other factors to consider as addiction relates to women is that those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol deviate from societal norms more than men. This can cause quite a bit of additional discomfort for women, as they are at a greater risk of being involved in a violent situation as compared to men who are struggling with alcohol or drug use. Women are not as able, or willing, to acknowledge that they are addicted and often face more barriers to receiving the treatment that they need than men do.
Mental Health in Women
All of these factors can have detrimental impacts on a woman’s mental health and the possibility that they will be addicted to a substance or will not be able to receive treatment for it. However, even after taking all of that into account, it’s important to note that men and women enjoy similar recovery rates after undergoing treatment.
Additionally, differences in brain chemistry and the amount of estrogen between men and women can also cause women to be especially susceptible to becoming addicted to drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Women also receive more prescriptions for painkillers, which can increase the possibility of an addiction to opioids.
Pregnancy and Addiction
The biggest difference between men and women regarding addiction is the effects of drug use during a women’s pregnancy. Anything that is done to a women’s body while she is pregnant is also done to the baby that she is carrying. In other words, if she is addicted to a substance, there’s a strong likelihood that the baby is too. Some of the possible effects that can occur to the baby include a low birth rate, small head size, birth defects, sudden infant death syndrome, issues with learning and memory, an inability to control its emotions and premature birth.
It should also be noted that many pregnant women who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are also suffering from mental health issues, which can make the recovery process even more challenging. Of course, recovery can still occur in this situation, but special care will be made to ensure that its likelihood is as high as possible, both for the health of the mother and for the health of the baby.
Additionally, a pregnant woman who looks to suddenly withdraw from drugs, to go cold turkey, is not only putting herself at exceptional risk but is putting her baby at quite a bit of risk as well.
Addiction Recovery For Women
Mental health and addiction in women is on the rise. Unfortunately, many women tend to have negative views regarding addiction recovery. They tend to be secretive about some aspects of their substance abuse or issues that affect them such as depression or anxiety.
Additionally, the differences between men and women as far as physiology and hormonal differences need to be taken into account. However, it should be noted that women do have the ability to overcome any addiction the same as a man, even if the approach to address the addiction may be slightly different.
Many women also report that going through the withdrawal process is more intense for them than is the case for men.
Although men and women are affected differently by their addiction, both are just as likely to break free. If you or a loved one is experiencing a struggle with drugs or alcohol, or if you’re looking for addiction treatment for women, please contact us for more information on how we can help.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.