Drugs are an equal opportunity seducer, but the way they use them, how they become addicted to them, and the way they recover from using them, can be different for women and for men.
According to the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, women may face unique issues based on gender and sex when it comes to substance abuse. For one thing, there are societal influences that cause many more women than men to use drugs to keep their weight down, manage physical pain, self-treat mental health problems, and overcome the pressure and fatigue of juggling work, child care, and other obligations. From a biological perspective, scientists have found special issues related to hormones, fertility, pregnancy, and menopause that can impact a woman’s struggles with drug use.
For these reasons, women’s drug rehab is often more successful in an environment that caters to their needs exclusively.
Women Use Drugs for Different Reasons
It’s understandable that women experience and react to some issues of life in ways other than men do. This is reflected in some of the reasons they use and abuse drugs.
- Women who are victims of domestic violence are at an increased risk of substance abuse.
- Women are more likely to turn to drugs than men are when they’re coping with divorce, loss of child custody, or the death of a loved one.
- Women are more inclined to use and abuse drugs to self-medicate when they’re dealing with emotional issues and stress.
Women Are Affected by Drugs Differently
The most recent data from the NIH indicates that 15.8 million (nearly 13 percent) of women over the age of 18 use illegal street drugs or off-label prescription drugs. Other findings include the facts that:
- Women may become addicted after using smaller amounts of drugs and for shorter lengths of time than men.
- Women may have more drug cravings than men have.
- Women may be more likely to relapse after treatment than men are.
- Women’s sex hormones can make women more sensitive than men are to the effects of some drugs.
- Women who use certain substances may be more likely to have panic attacks, anxiety, or depression than men have.
Women Suffer Unique Health Risks From Drugs
While some severe physical and mental consequences from drug abuse affect both women and men, women suffer from a number that are unique:
- Women who abuse drugs may experience more physical effects on their hearts and blood vessels than men do.
- Women’s brains can be affected and altered differently by drugs than men’s are.
- Women are more likely than men to have co-occurring psychiatric disorders associated with drug abuse.
- Women who abuse drugs during pregnancy can suffer migraines, seizures, or high blood pressure that affects the baby, and they have increased risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.
- Women may be more likely to have emergency medical issues or fatal consequences from drug abuse than men have.
- Women may have more severe withdrawal symptoms than men do.
Why Women Do Better With Other Women
Women are socialized differently than most men are, and they’re generally more verbal and comfortable expressing themselves when talking about sensitive or deeply personal issues. Many women connect more openly with other women than with men, and in groups they tend to be more collaborative and less aggressive with each other because they share a commonality of experiences. Those in particular who have been in abusive relationships or have had difficulties with men find safety in female-only settings.
For women who don’t have relevant issues with men, there are other factors at play. Every woman knows that having men around changes the atmosphere, even if only subliminally. It’s the reason that girls often do better in single-sex schools where they can focus on academics without the kind of social distractions that boys bring into the picture. They are more relaxed and less concerned with perceptions and appearances.
An added benefit is that group sessions in a women-only facility can take the time to focus on topics that are generally of greater interest and pertinence to women and the unique challenges they face in overcoming addiction, such as eating disorders, parenting, family obligations, and relationships.
In addition to treating the specifically female physical and social issues of drug rehabilitation, a women-only facility offers the caring and comfort of mental, emotional, and spiritual support that helps through rehab and sustains recovery.