Is Painkiller Addiction in Women Different Than in Men?

There have been recent studies that show that the gender gap is quickly closing when it comes to substance use disorders and in the case of opioid addiction, it is no different. In the U.S., of the estimated 4.5 million women with a drug or alcohol addiction, 77 percent are misusing prescription drugs including pain pills. In addition, according to the CDC, between 1999 and 2010, the death rate for prescription opioid overdoses increased 400 percent for women, compared with 237 percent for men. For heroin overdoses, deaths among women tripled from 2010 through 2013.

Why Are Women Becoming Addicted?

Studies show that women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription painkillers more often than men, be prescribed higher doses than men, and become dependent more quickly than men. Another reason why women might be at a greater risk of opioid addiction is because of emotional issues while men misuse opioids because of behavioral problems.

Although men still tend to use more substances than women do, the gender gap is narrowing.

  • Women are just as likely as men to get addicted.
  • The lifetime prevalence of alcohol use disorder in women is 19.5 percent, drug use disorders is 7.1 percent.
  • A study done in 2011 showed that the prevalence of substance use disorders was almost double in men as compared to women.
  • In a different study, done in 2012, of those in the U.S. who reported illicit drug use, about 42 percent were women. Of all people who were using tobacco, 40 percent were women, and alcohol was almost 50-50.

Higher Risks of Addiction in Women

Women are more likely to have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder and eating disorders that make them more susceptible to addiction. It’s also important to note that women, when exposed to trauma, are more likely to develop PTSD than men. To cope with these issues, women often develop a substance use disorder. Women are more likely to use substances to manage stress and negative effects and have more cravings in response to these negative cues, whereas men respond more to drug-related cues.

Men are more likely to develop substance use disorders because they are exposed to drugs at an earlier age, they tend to abuse drugs in larger amounts, and are more likely to abuse alcohol, tobacco and engage in binge drinking all at once. Men tend to develop the substance use disorder first, and then later the addictive disorder will develop.

Addiction Treatment for Women

Generally, women are less likely than men to engage in treatment, and they tend to be under-represented in treatment programs. Women have some unique barriers to care, one of them being childcare. For single moms, they face the stress of being the only parent to take care of their kids. If they decide to seek treatment, they become concerned that the Department of Children and Family Services may take the children away, so moms end up neglecting themselves while trying to care for their family.

The good news is that once women do engage in treatment, they tend to do just as well as men. Many qualified addiction treatment centers also evaluate and treat co-occurring psychiatric disorders and/or a history of trauma. Without addressing these issues, treatment cannot be comprehensive. It’s extremely important for women to have the support and resources that are unique to their needs so they can be successful in treatment.

A good treatment program for women with addiction must be comprehensive and multidisciplinary. It should address the various facets of life such as healing the mind, body and spirit. It should provide guidance on the necessary aftercare resources that she must have, and it should arm her with the relapse prevention techniques she will need to remain successful.

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