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The Gender Differences in Addiction

andrew-ly-383859When you’re on the journey to recovery from addiction, you want to be sure that you’re taking the treatment steps that are right for you, and that includes a recovery that incorporates your gender. While some things are the same regardless of your gender, it’s also true that your gender can impact your addictive tendencies and impact your recovery. Understanding how this works can help you, or a loved one, on the road to recovery.

Alcohol Addiction in Women

Even casual drinkers know that your ability to process and metabolize alcohol depends heavily on your weight. Since women tend to be lighter than men, their tolerance is considerably lower. There are, however, several other factors also cause women to become intoxicated at a lower level of alcohol consumption than men. These include:

  • Lower body percentage of water, which leads to faster intoxication
  • Faster brain atrophy following alcohol consumption
  • Lower concentrations of an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol

Menstrual Cycles and Addiction

Because women experience significant hormone highs and lows along with their menstrual cycles, it’s important to understand that those hormones can significantly impact the addiction journey. Women may experience a more significant impact of addictive drugs and other substances during the pre-ovulation phase of their menstrual cycle. During the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, which follows ovulation, they may not experience the same high they do prior to ovulation. Unfortunately, this can make addiction more difficult to control, since addicts may increase their consumption in an effort to get the high they’re looking for.

Gender and the Likelihood of Substance Abuse

Men are more likely than women to abuse illegal substances in general. That doesn’t mean, however, that women aren’t equally impacted by addiction. Women who experiment with these substances are just as likely to end up dependent on them as men are. Women are also one of the fastest-growing segments of the population in addiction. Gender also helps to divide the types of substances that are most often abused: women tend to be given more access to prescription painkillers and other medications, while men are more likely to abuse marijuana in areas where it isn’t legal. Stimulants are equally likely to be abused by individuals of either gender. It is also noted that women tend to increase the symptoms of addiction faster than men.

Women are also more likely than men to hide their addiction from friends and family members, increasing their addiction instead of getting the help they need. They may spend more hours at home alone or with children. Alcohol addiction, in particular, can be hidden with a string of “martini play dates” and other social opportunities to indulge. Unfortunately, as these events increase in frequency, addiction continues to grow.

How Gender Impacts Recovery

Unfortunately, recovery from addiction can also be impacted by gender. Women are more likely to struggle with relapse following the addiction process. They struggle more with cravings and are more likely to have to return to treatment. This is due in part to the fact that women often wait longer to seek the help they need following addiction. Worried about being separated from their families or more embarrassed than men by their addiction, women may put off seeking treatment or even refuse it altogether. They will also continue to suffer menstrual cycle-related concerns with cravings throughout the recovery process.

Assessing gender concerns during the recovery process is critical to ensuring that women, in particular, receive the treatment they need when they’re on the road to recovery. Women may need more support during the recovery process, and they may struggle longer to fight off cravings and return to their normal lives. By deepening the understanding of how gender impacts recovery, many facilities will find that it’s easier to help women in this critical journey.


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