Blog | Drug Abuse

Mars and Venus: Prescription Drugs Affect Men and Women Differently

People have been tracking the differences between men and women for decades, but oddly, little attention has been paid to the differences in how men and women respond to different medications.

Dosages are usually based on weight or on a person’s individual response with little attention paid to the differences in hormones, metabolism, and body composition that vary based on gender. According to Scientific American, women are 50 to 75 percent more likely to experience side effects and other issues when taking addictive medications like painkillers, sleep aids and anti-anxiety drugs.[1] The following are some specific examples:

  • Opiate painkillers.[2] These medications are often much more effective in women and therefore more potent at higher doses. Researchers believe that this may be due to the fact that estrogen may assist in moderating pain levels. Additionally, men may be more likely to overdose on prescription painkillers, but women have a more difficult time when it comes to trying to break free from painkiller dependence – it’s harder to stop using the drugs and harder for them to avoid relapse.
  • Prescription sleep aids.[3] The first ever gender-specific dosing guideline was made by the FDA about Ambien, a popular sleep medication, stating that the drug was twice as potent for women as compared to men at the same dose. Men have faster metabolisms so they break down these medications much more quickly. Women also keep the medication in their systems for longer periods of time. This means that they are more likely to feel the effects and side effects the next morning when they need to be alert.
  • Anti-anxiety drugs.[4] Men have more acid in their stomachs than women do, which is part of the reason why medications in general and anti-anxiety meds in particular take longer to break down in women than men. Women feel the effects of these medications more potently and more quickly as compared to men, and standard doses may be toxic to them as a result. Additionally, women may need to have longer periods between doses because their kidneys don’t process the drug out of their systems as quickly as men’s kidneys do, and their bodies hold the drug in their body fat which can lead to toxicity at low doses.

Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction

Nurse admitting detox patient

Medically supervised detox is the best way to begin any treatment program for drug addiction, including addiction to prescription drugs. Detox in a medical facility means you or your loved one has access to 24-hour care while your body rids itself of the toxins of the drug. Once detox has ended, diagnosis can begin. During diagnosis your treatment team of doctor’s, therapist and other addiction professionals will assess your situation and determine if there is any underlying mental illness contributing to or causing your addiction.

A dual diagnosis is important if both conditions are to be treated successfully. After diagnosis, your care team will put together a plan of individual counseling, medications, group counseling, family therapy and other holistic options focused on treating the entire person- body, mind and spirit. Most insurance programs cover 30, 60 or 90 days of care depending on your unique needs and situation. Your admissions coordinator will help you understand your health insurance benefits and the length of treatment programs that are available to you.

Find Help for Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug addiction can strike both genders at any time while taking medications to control pain, anxiety or promote better sleep. Overdose is a serious issue no matter who you are or how long you’ve been taking your drug of choice. If you or a loved one struggles with prescription drug addiction, choosing the right treatment program can make a lasting difference. Contact us at Michael’s House today to speak to an admissions coordinator about how our treatment programs can help.


[1] Roni Jacobson. “Psychotropic Drugs Affect Men and Women Differently,” Scientific American, July 1, 2014. Accessed April 3, 2017. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/psychotropic-drugs-affect-men-and-women-differently/

[2] Medline Plus. “Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal,” April 20, 2016. Accessed April 3, 2017. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm

[3] Mayo Clinic. “Prescription Sleeping Pills: What’s Right for You?” December 27, 2014. Accessed April 3, 2017. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/in-depth/sleeping-pills/art-20043959

[4] Helpguide.org. “Anxiety Medication,” December 2016. Accessed April 3, 2017. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/anxiety-medication.htm