Addiction in Women: A Double-edged Sword
Women are more susceptible to addiction and suffer greater addiction-related consequences than men. Why is this? We explore the causes here.
When women present for addiction treatment, they are often much worse for wear than their male counterparts. Numerous studies have found that the effects of addiction hit women harder than men in all stages of the addiction process and in a variety of ways. We explore the physiological, psychological and social reasons behind this phenomenon.
Physical Effects of Addiction in Women
Compared to men, women typically become addicted after exposure to smaller amounts of drugs, used for shorter durations of time. This is true for a variety of drugs including alcohol, stimulants such as cocaine as well as opioids.
Not only do women become addicted more easily, but the physical effects of substance use are much more damaging on women’s bodies. Much of this has to do with the physiological differences between the genders, with women’s bodies typically being smaller overall and therefore composed of less tissue. So, if a woman uses the same amount of a substance as a man, more of it will be absorbed into her blood stream, producing a stronger effect in her smaller body and creating more work for her smaller liver.
All of this adds up to women being more susceptible to the damaging effects of alcohol, at a higher risk of heart attack and lung cancer from smoking and more likely to present for emergency room visits as a result of opioid abuse as compared to men.
Ovarian Hormones and Addiction
Another physical factor playing a leading role in women’s increased vulnerability to addiction risks is gender-based hormonal differences. A number of studies have found that hormonal changes can lead to intense drug cravings in women. Estrogen has been found to excite the drug receptors in the brain, increasing cravings and making women more likely to overindulge, or succumb to relapse during certain phases of their menstrual cycle.
These effects are most pronounced during the luteal phase (the stage following ovulation). This has been found to be true with regard to a number of different substances but particularly for stimulants like cocaine. Interestingly, your chances of successfully quitting drug use are best if you begin to abstain during the follicular phase (just after menstruation and before ovulation).
Psychological Factors that Affect Addicted Women
Women are almost twice as likely to suffer from anxiety or depression as men. These conditions create a great deal of discomfort that sufferers often find themselves attempting to alleviate with alcohol and drug use.
Additionally, women are exposed to more and different types of trauma than men; particularly interpersonal violence and sexual abuse. This increased victimization leaves women more likely to turn to substances to self-soothe. Unfortunately, reliance on drugs or alcohol to overcome psychological distress is one of the easiest paths to addiction.
The Stigma Surrounding Female Substance Use
Somehow, when men fall victim to a vice it is viewed as drastically different from a women in the same situation. Women who indulge in alcohol or drugs are often viewed as deviant, and it’s only worse if they succumb to addiction.
For men, on the other hand, substance use and even abuse is far too often brushed off as ‘boys being boys’. This addiction double standard results in women being far less likely to open up about their struggle with addiction and also less likely to seek the treatment they so desperately need to heal. In reality, addiction is a disease – not a character flaw. In order to overcome this stigma that is a barrier to treatment for so many women, we must keep this in mind whenever we talk about anyone’s battle with substance use.
Similarly, since women often fill the role of primary caretaker and typically have more familial responsibilities as compared to men, substance use becomes even more taboo. This stigma is ten-fold for women who become pregnant. Unfortunately, many pregnant women in need of addiction treatment, particularly pregnant women addicted to opioids, fail to get help and many attribute this failure to seek treatment to the shame they feel surrounding their addiction.
Advertising Alcohol to Mothers
Despite the stigma attached to women drinking, there seems to be an increase in recent years in marketing of alcohol, particularly wine, to women. The premise of most of these ads is that women are unable to cope with the demands of daily life, particularly motherhood, without a little help from a bottle of wine. This is especially evident on social media in the form of jokes about how mommy needs a drink. The wine companies have undoubtedly taken notice. There’s even a brand of wine called ‘Mommy’s Little Helper’, conveying an underlying message that any mother requires alcohol to face her day.
These messages leave many with the idea that they should turn to the bottle whenever they are feeling the pressures of domestic life. This can be particularly problematic for someone with a genetic susceptibility toward substance abuse or underdeveloped organic coping methods to face life’s challenges alcohol-free.
Effective Addiction Treatment for Women in Bangkok
All of this paints a pretty pessimistic picture with regard to female addiction. Fortunately, effective addiction treatment for women is available.
At The Cabin Bangkok we understand the ins and outs of addiction and how it affects different groups, especially women. Our team of addiction experts are acutely aware of the issues that you face as woman struggling with addiction and will develop a personalised plan to ensure that all of your treatment needs are met. Contact us today to see how light you can feel without the weight of addiction pulling you down.