Conventionally, society believes that men are more likely to develop a substance use disorder. However, with comprehensive research that included women’s studies, it is derived that women too suffer from a substance use disorder. The numbers vary- men are more likely to use substances than women. However, women are more likely to suffer from the gruesome or fatal effects of substance abuse.
While men’s journey towards addiction is fast-paced, women transition from substance abuse to substance dependence and addiction. As the experiences of men and women in the addiction stage are different, the recovery stage varies depending on the sex and gender.
Researchers have distinguished between the experience of addiction for men and women based on biological (sex) and sociological (gender) differences. Biological differences primarily stem from the hormonal contrast between men and women- testosterone and estrogen, respectively. Apart from that, the body size and composition of the two causes varied effects on them. With regards to sociological differences- women are subject to the stigma around addiction. In addition, childcare responsibilities, relationship dynamics, etc., play a role in the gender disparity.
How do these differences affect their experience?
Consider a situation where both men and women wish to quit smoking. Due to biological reasons, women have a more challenging time quitting smoking than men do. This is because women metabolize nicotine faster than men. However, due to the societal stigma associated with smoking, women battle more challenges than men.
While the response to substances is different, even reasons for using substances differ for men and women. Compared to men, a higher percentage of women with such a disorder are/have been victims of physical, sexual, or verbal abuse. It is noticed that most women in addiction treatments have been victims of substance abuse as a cause of traumatic experiences. Even women who have PTSD, i.e. Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, are likely to use substances that eventually lead to addiction. Women who use drugs have unique reasons to do so- fighting exhaustion, coping with pain, self-treating mental health problems, dealing with stress and emotional turmoil, etc.
Mentioned below are exclusive experiences of women in addiction:
- Women are slow to become addicts. Unlike men, they are mindful of the quantity they consume and consume them slowly over time.
- Women are more likely to experience intense cravings and relapse.
- Painkillers and Opioids are prescribed to women more than men.
- The effects of drugs on women are potent, and these can lead women to emergency rooms or even death from an overdose or side-effects of certain substances.
- Women are more likely to experience the effects of drugs physically, impacting their heart and blood vessels.
- Changes inside the brain and its functioning are different for both men and women.
- Women who are victims of domestic violence, trauma, and mental stress are at an increased risk of substance abuse.
- Constant use of certain substances can lead a woman into anxiety and depression, causing panic attacks.
- The primary issue faced by women who use drugs is related to their hormones and reproductive cycles. Some of these substances increase the likelihood of infertility and an early onset of menopause.
- During pregnancy and breastfeeding, substance use becomes complicated. Pregnant women can cause harm to their developing fetuses by using drugs, including tobacco and alcohol, which get passed on to the fetus. Similarly, new mothers who use drugs will harm their babies through breastfeeding.
Be it a man or a woman, everyone finds it challenging to quit using harmful substances. Women especially face significant challenges while recovering from addiction. Women with such disorders fear that seeking help to rescue them from addiction can cause them legal and societal problems. Therefore, it’s important to have a supportive community that does not belittle or shame women with substance use disorder.
Drug abuse treatments are available for both men and women. For the needs of women, customized treatments are provided. Women can be treated before and during pregnancy too. Their unique needs are addressed during the drug abuse treatment, which can help her recover and restore her health.
Effective treatment is provided in rehabilitation centres in Delhi that employ professionals who prescribe treatments and study the individual’s condition to cater to specific needs. The idea of drug abuse treatment is to reduce the complications and challenges of an individual who wants to recover. Women in recovery need to be empowered and not broken down. Rehabilitation centres have a controlled environment where women will feel uplifted and motivated to change. Ladies, it is not impossible to transform your hell into a healthy life!
Women who have battled addiction go through challenges post-recovery, too, when they step back into society where name-calling and gossip follow them. Thus, constantly being reminded of the past could get frustrating. Therefore, women undergoing drug abuse treatments must also be trained to cope-up with such difficult situations when they step into the world outside the rehabilitation centre.
This blog was reviewed by Ms. Shraddha Banerjee (B.sc (Gold Medalist), M.Sc, M.Phil), RCI Licenced Clinical Psychologist at Safe House Premium. She has been writing articles on Mental Illness in Dainik Bhaskar. With expertise in substance-related, neurotic, sexual, and stress-based disorders among young adults, Ms. Banerjee forms an integral part of the support system for individuals healing from addictions of various natures.