Blog | Addiction Recovery

Facts About Women and Drug Addiction

Women are strong. They meet and overcome challenges no one expects them to. This does not mean they are invincible. Just like anyone, women can and do face substance abuse and addiction problems. They often struggle invisibly or in silence, but they do struggle. If you are a woman trapped by addiction, you know the fight for freedom is real. If your daughter, mother, friend or partner misuses drugs or alcohol, you know she has a serious and valid problem. Addiction is as much a fact for women as it is for men. It may even be a larger issue for some women because of their unique biological makeup, socially ascribed gender roles, and barriers to treatment and recovery. False assumptions about addiction should never minimize or hide the challenges women face. It should never limit a woman’s opportunities for fair, appropriate addiction treatment. Women become addicted to drugs and alcohol. With professional care and attention, these same women can find recovery.

Fact: Women Struggle with Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Depressed womanen face problems. In fact a significant portion of the female population does. The Surgeon General[1] explains that in 2015, “Prevalence of an alcohol use disorder was 7.8 percent for men and 4.1 percent for women. The prevalence of an illicit drug use disorder was 3.8 percent for men and 2.0 percent for women.” Women may not be as likely as men to struggle with addiction, but they do still struggle. No woman’s substance use concerns should go unnoticed, ignored or denied.

Fact: A Woman’s Biology Affects Her Addiction Experience

Women are biologically different from men. Their bodies are externally, visibly different. Their internal chemistry is different. These differences affect how they experience substance use and addiction. They matter in regards to appropriate treatment and recovery.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse[2] shares, “Sex hormones can make women more sensitive than men to the effects of some drugs. Women who use drugs may also experience more physical effects on their heart and blood vessels. Brain changes in women who use drugs can be different from those in men.”

Hormones, physical changes, and psychological effects influence if and how addiction develops. They can create unique treatment challenges and put recovery at risk. Professional treatment specializing in women’s care will acknowledge and address these differences. They give women the tools they, specifically, need for long-term wellness.

Fact: Women Are Assigned Different Social Roles Than Men

Although gender roles are increasingly flexible, women are still more likely to assigned caregiving and child-rearing roles. This influences addiction and recovery. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains, “Women are more likely than men to encounter barriers that prevent them from seeking or following through with treatment.” They often have difficulty finding money or transportation for care. They are less likely to know about their options for treatment and feel greater stigma regarding getting it.

Women often stay home to raise families rather than pursue careers that offer insurance coverage and information about access to treatment. They feel they cannot take time off or set aside their responsibilities.

Gender roles create barriers to treatment. They also provide motivation for change. For example a woman may be much more eager to pursue and complete treatment if she is motivated to become a better parent and save or regain custody of children.

Gender roles both limit and support a woman’s journey to recovery. Treatment programs should recognize a woman’s unique reservations and motivations regarding recovery. Programs can offer motivational enhancement therapy, parenting skills classes, and more. Every treatment experience should reflect an individual’s personal experience no matter gender.

Fact: Women Face Unique Addiction Consequences

taking pillsBiology and social roles converge to create unique addiction consequences for women. The Surgeon General explains that substance misuse can, “result in serious, enduring, and costly consequences due to motor vehicle crashes, intimate partner and sexual violence, child abuse and neglect, suicide attempts and fatalities, overdose deaths, various forms of cancer (e.g., breast cancer in women), heart and liver diseases, HIV/AIDS, and problems related to drinking or using drugs during pregnancy, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) or neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).” All of these issues affect women. Some disproportionately impact women’s lives. Others only apply to women. Treatment needs to assess a woman’s physical, mental and emotional health. It needs to understand her addiction experience. Treatment should offer the integrated, comprehensive care a woman needs to find long-lasting physical health, emotional and social stability, and freedom from drugs or alcohol.


[1] https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/surgeon-generals-report.pdf. Facing Addiction: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Surgeongeneral.gov. Nov 2016. Web. 18 Mar 2017.

[2] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/substance-use-in-women. “Substance Use in Women.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Sep 2015. Web. 18 Mar 2017.