The Problems With Being a Female Addict
Every year, nearly 200,000 women die from a rampant disease that is misunderstood in the female gender: addiction. Even though the U.S. National Drug Survey found that men are much more prone to addiction and substance abuse — nearly 12 percent of the American male population has experienced a dependence problem — plenty of other research has indicated that female addicts face significantly more challenges before, during, and after addiction than their male counterparts.
It is much more difficult to be a woman experiencing addiction — but most medical facilities and media portrayals fail to understand and accurately demonstrate female substances abusers and the problems they face, including the following.
The Causes of Addiction Are Distinct
Though research is inconclusive, most experts believe that men take substances to feel “good” while women take them to feel “better.” The difference is crucial: Men hope to experiment with novel feelings and sensations, but women seek to lessen difficult emotions, sensations, or issues that they are currently struggling with.
The instances of comorbid psychiatric disorders are dramatically higher among women who abuse substances. This leads many addiction specialists to believe that a large number of women only turn to addictive substances for self-medication. Mental diseases such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar affective disorder are difficult to understand and diagnose, and because most comorbidities of this nature seem to predate any substance abuse, it is likely that many sufferers are unaware of their psychiatric disease and thus fail to seek medical aid.
Other women turn to substance abuse to work through troubles stemming from their family lives. Many studies find close links between instances of domestic abuse — be it physical, sexual, psychological, or otherwise — and women’s addiction. Women are much more likely to suffer violence of this nature, and thus more women than men use substances to lessen its toll.
The Addiction Is Faster and Stronger
Though it is easy to assume that men and women experience the highs of addictive substances similarly, research demonstrates this is simply not the case. Male and female bodies have different constructions, and thus they have differing reactions to addictive substances.
For example, on average, women are smaller than men, and they usually have more fatty tissue; however, women tend to consume roughly the same amounts of substance, and they have less water in their bodies to dilute the substance. What results is a more concentrated absorption of addictive substances in female bodies, which leads directly to hard, fast addiction — that is significantly harder to quit.
The Consequences Develop Sooner and More Severely
Because women become much more intensely dependent on their substances much sooner than men do, they often experience worse symptoms of their addictions rather early in their abuse experiences. Like men in similar circumstances, many women face unemployment and financial troubles due to uncontrollable substance abuse.
However, many women also grapple with the issues of parenting while maintaining an addiction; by continuing to use, these women risk losing primary care of their children.
Moreover, because of the size and construction differences in women’s bodies, the damage that substances can do to internal organs is accelerated to a dramatic degree. Therefore, the detrimental health effects of substances are much more pronounced in female addicts. These can include:
• Heart attack
• Kidney failure
• Liver failure
Worse, women can become pregnant while abusing substances, and their continued addiction may endanger the future mental and physical health of their unborn child.
Most Therapy Is Designed for Men
Men have been the primary focus of addiction treatment for decades, which means that an overwhelming majority of information we have regarding effective treatment methods is related solely to the male gender.
Therefore, until recently, women had no other choice but to utilize male-oriented rehabilitation facilities. At these centers, women often fail to receive necessary care for underlying psychological disorders or family/social risk factors. Additionally, many women feel uncomfortable being honest and open around the opposite sex, which prevents true healing and recovery in co-ed situations.
Fortunately, due to the overwhelming evidence of differences between male and female addiction, a handful of recovery centers have opened which were designed specifically with women’s needs in mind. Addiction treatment for women should be holistic, treating the mind, body, and community of the addict to ensure a greater chance of success outside of the facility.
The Risk of Relapse Is Greater
Due to all of the previous characteristics of female addiction, women are much more likely to relapse sooner in their recovery than men. Women tend to be more perceptive and responsive, which means certain triggers, such as depressive emotions or financial stress, may more easily incite a woman to resume her previous substance abuse.
It is the responsibility of the female addict, her rehab facility, and her community to be strong and supportive throughout her recovery to prevent an addiction relapse that may very well end her life.