Drug Abuse and the Gender Gap

Usage rates for prescription drugs continue to rise with nearly 3 in 5 Americans taking prescription drugs including antidepressants and opioids.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that prescription drug usage among people 20 and older had risen to 59 percent from 51 percent just a dozen years earlier and it was rising at a faster rate than ever before. During the same period, the percentage of people taking five or more prescription drugs nearly doubled, to 15 percent from 8 percent.

Effects of Gender on Addiction

It is no surprise then that the non-medical use of prescription drugs including painkillers, tranquilizers, and sedatives continue to be a growing problem in the United States. Statistics show men abuse prescription drugs at a higher rate than women, however, the gap between the genders is narrowing. Females age 12 to 17 are less likely to take abuse prescription drug and abuse and distribution is much higher in males of the same age range, according to a recent government study on Gender Medicine. The same report shows that young adult females show a higher percentage rate of addiction to cocaine and prescription drugs even though males in that age group abuse those drugs more frequently and take them in larger amounts.

Disturbingly, more recent statistics show that overdose deaths among young women are increasing, especially those who become addicted to opioids. The CDC Vital Signs reported that deaths from opioid overdose among women have increased 400 percent since 1999. By comparison, young men of the same age group suffered fatal opioid overdoses by approximately 265 percent in that same time frame. The CDC has estimated that as many as 18 women in the United States die every day from an opioid drug overdose, most of which were obtained by prescription.

To continue the disturbing downtrend of drug abuse according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women are less likely to receive adequate treatment for substance abuse than men. Studies show that women are less likely than men to be placed in a specialized but are often treated by primary care providers or through mental health programs instead. Women also face more obstacles that are an impediment to their treatment, such as lower incomes, the possibility of pregnancy, and the need for childcare. In addition, women show more of a tendency to hide their substance abuse for a variety of reason including fear of social stigma, loss of child custody, or repercussions from a partner or spouse.

In the past, studies in drug addiction was from a male perspective for both males and females and drug abuse prevention programs and rehab facilities were designed with an emphasis on the needs of males. In comparison, outreach campaigns, preventive education, and drug rehab today is tailored to address the needs of both men and women as the scientific and medical community become more informed about how and why these addiction patterns occur in both men and women.

With gender roles playing a role in addiction, Gender-specific treatment programs provide a respite from the social stressors of everyday life. Patients can focus on their recovery without the distraction of the opposite sex. Studies show that both men and women feel more comfortable communicating about issues like sexuality, social prejudice, and domestic abuse with members of their own gender.

Both men and women suffering from opiod addiction, both can benefit from comprehensive rehabilitation programs that focus on the full range of care required to be free from addiction. These programs take a patient from detox to residential treatment, partial hospitalization, outpatient services, and transitional living. Effective treatment therapies include:

Fitness training
Experimental and holistic modalities
Follow up programs
Family or marriage counseling
Nutritional counceling

Having the support of a highly trained, multidisciplinary staff can help individuals of both genders recover from the disease of addiction and regain hope for the future.

According to a SAMHSA report in 2014, men are more likely than women to use all types of illegal drugs that result in emergency department visits or overdose deaths. These drugs include marijuana (according to federal law) and the misuse of prescription drugs. Men in most age groups have a higher rate of use and dependence on illicit drugs and alcohol than do women. However, women are just as likely as men to become addicted but are more likely to become addicted to prescription drugs and illegal drugs. Women are also more susceptible to craving and relapse which are key phases of the addiction cycle.

Going even further in their research SAMHSA found that women of color may face other unique issues with regard to drug use and treatment needs. For example, African-American and American Indian/Alaska Native women are more likely than women of other racial and ethnic groups to be victims of rape, physical violence, and stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime-issues that are risk factors for substance use and should be addressed during treatment.

In addition to drug abuse be affected by personality traits, research has shown that in most instances women use drugs differently, respond to drugs differently, and often have unique obstacles that prevent them from receiving effective treatment. Some of these obstacles being as simple as not being able to find child care or being prescribed treatment that has not been adequately tested on women.

Researchers continue to study to learn more about the differing factors that attribute to drug addiction in males and females. As they are able to effectively identify these factors, the medical community more able to develop programs to increase an individual’s chance of breaking free from addictive lifestyles.

They are learning that the physical and mental differences of both men and women contribute how they are introduced abuse an individual’s ability to be successful in a treatment program

In a July 2016 article CNN reported that:

“according to a report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, worldwide, drug use has remained steady over the past four years,. However, researchers found that heroin use in the United States is up 145% since 2007.”

One in 20 adults — roughly a quarter of a billion people between ages 15 and 64 — used at least one illegal or improperly used drug in 2014, according to the World Drug Report 2016. Though the numbers have not grown in proportion to the global population, new trends have developed, including increased sales in anonymous online marketplaces.

The U.N. researchers also reported gender differences in drug use. Men are three times more likely than women to use cannabis, cocaine or amphetamines, while women are more likely to take opioids and tranquilizers for non-medical purposes.