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Gender Differences in Addiction and Recovery


Addiction does not discriminate between genders. Both men and women can be victims of substance use disorders. However, there are distinct differences in how addiction affects each gender.

These differences directly link to the biological differences in men and women. Some substances tend to be more intense to one gender and less to the other.

Gender and addiction play off each other more than many people assume. Analyzed data continue to provide insight into the differences in addiction among genders. These studies have helped specialists provide tailored alcohol addiction treatments and other substance use disorder treatments to individual patients.

Variables related to addiction and recovery are not consistent for men and women. These variables include the onset age of addiction, the most abused substances, and the likelihood of relapsing. Predisposed genetic tendencies within the genders, societal norms, and outside influence can attribute to these differences.


Is Addiction More Common in Men or Women?


Drug and alcohol addiction is equally devastating for men and women alike. Yet, both genders are drawn to different substances, and the addiction disease affects them differently (1).

Researchers now have more comprehensive data for determining how alcoholism and substance use affect males and females. A 1980 study on male drug abuse found that (2):

  • Males start abusing drugs much earlier than females
  • Males are more likely to abuse alcohol than females
  • Males abuse drugs and other substances more often and in much larger quantities
  • Males are more likely to binge drink than females


Close to 12% of American males aged 12 and older are currently abusing drugs. Compared to the 7.3% of females within the same age group (3). Males abuse illegal drugs and alcohol at a much higher rate than females.

But even more, interesting data has found women show more signs of addiction, craving, and relapse than men. Women use and respond to drugs differently than men. Males are more likely to use more types of drugs than women. This is because they have more opportunities and will also use them for longer periods.


How Does Alcohol Affect Males and Females Differently?


It is crucial to understand how both males and females engage with various drugs. As well as how they can affect their experiences with addiction and recovery. Addiction among genders varies for several reasons. As such, no explicit study shows that one gender is more dependent on alcohol or other substances than the other.

1. Alcohol

By far, alcohol is the most abused substance worldwide. Historically, men have had higher alcohol abuse rates than women. With approximately 8.4% of males showing incidences of alcohol use disorder (AUD) compared to 4.2 of females (4). (These percentages might be higher and don’t hold for all demographics.)

Men and women abuse alcohol for different reasons.Men tend to drink to enhance positive emotions or reinforce social bonds. On the other hand, women drink to alleviate stress. Women are also more likely to have psychiatric disorders that co-occur with their AUD. Because of this, they have an increased need for dual diagnosis treatment.

2. Marijuana

More men than women also abuse marijuana. And like alcohol, cannabis’s effects on both sexes are interestingly different. For instance, women are more likely to experience spatial memory impairment from abusing marijuana. While men are more prone to exhibiting greater marijuana-induced highs.

Both sexes show equal rates of cannabis treatment admissions. And equally experience at least one other mental health issue (anxiety, panic disorders, depression, etc.). Both sexes also show a low rate of seeking treatment for marijuana use.

However, men are more likely to experience SUDs and antisocial personality disorder. Contrastingly, women who abuse cannabis are more likely to suffer anxiety disorders and panic attacks. Women are also more likely to develop these disorders more quickly than men.

3. Heroin

Women use heroin in smaller amounts and for less time than men. Women are also less likely to inject heroin. For the most part they point to sexual partner encouragement and social pressure as factors for injecting.

Women may be more at risk of overdose death from heroin in the first few years of injecting it. And those who continue using after the first few years have a higher survival rate than men in the long term.

4. Opioids

Opioid abuse and addiction have also become an epidemic, with women becoming more disproportionately affected than men. Women account for over 13.8% of opioid abuse and addiction, while men account for only 7.8%. Women experience higher overdose cases related to opioids. While men are still more likely to die from opioid and other drug prescription overdoses.

More babies are also being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) because of prenatal opioid use (5).

5. Stimulants: Cocaine and Methamphetamine

Both sexes also tend to equally abuse stimulants. However, women have been recorded to report their first use at much younger ages than men. Hormones play a critical role in the biological differences between male and female addictions.

To elaborate, women tend to have more cravings for stimulants and are more likely to relapse than men. This is likely due to changes during their menstrual cycles and hormone production. Estrogen plays a critical role in the “reward” effects of stimulants like Methamphetamine and Cocaine. As such, women are more likely to become addicted to stimulants faster and take larger doses than men.

On the surface, men appear to be the primary abusers of alcohol and marijuana, while women check into rehabilitation centers less. However, women account for many other substance addictions. A higher percentage of young adult females also use cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription medications than young adult males.

Thus, the allusive question; which gender is more likely to become a substance abuser: males or females?


Factors Contributing to the Differences in Men and Women with Addiction


There are many distinctive factors explaining the differences in addiction among genders. This segment expounds on the most prevalent:

1. Biological Factor

The male and female biology is very different. Which is a major contributing factor to why men and women react to drugs and alcohol differently. Stimulants open the blood vessels in female brains more than in males, impacting their minds differently.

The same applies to alcohol. Men’s biological makeup allows them to consume more alcohol to become drunk than females. Men metabolize much faster than women, allowing them to drink more. That is why women who drink the same alcohol amount as men tend to have a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

A study by the National Library on Medicine also found that women become more addicted to prescription drugs. This is due in part because of their biological structure (6). The main reason being women endear chronic pain at much higher levels than men. This is the main reason why women use prescription medication (pain killers) for chronic pain more and become addicted to them.

2. Environmental Factor

A person’s environment also plays a critical role in their addiction. Environmental factors are mainly related to the family, neighborhood, and school. When surrounded by addictive substances, a developing mind finds it normal to see and use these drugs. This can occur regardless of gender.

Many addicts likely started using drugs and other addictive substances at a young age because they were surrounded by those substances. They then carry their substance abuse disorder into their adult lives if not treated.

Teens who lack parental involvement or live in abusive homes are more likely to turn to substance use. They turn to substances to cope with their emotions. Peer pressure from school and other social classes can also easily influence non-addicts to experiment with substances. Biology also plays a major role as far as remaining addicted.

3. Social Risk Factors

Social factors can also increase the risk of adolescent substance abuse. They may include peer relationships, popularity, bullying, and gang associations. Social and familial influences often present simultaneously, increasing the likelihood of becoming substance users and potential addicts.

4. Other Risk Factors

Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are also known to contribute to addiction issues. Both genders can use drugs and alcohol to cope. However, certain drugs may increase the user’s depression and anxiety.

Chronic pain conditions can also result in prescription drug addiction. Patients who use prescription drugs to manage their pain and recovery processes sometimes become addicted to those medications. The longer these people are on these prescription drugs, the harder it becomes for them to get off them.


Which Drugs Are More Common?


Dust as addiction among genders differs, so do their favored drugs of abuse. Men prefer using certain drugs to others, and the same applies to women’s drug use preferences. These reports illustrate which drugs men and women use:

  • Men are up to three times more likely to smoke cannabis daily than women. But with the growing movement to legalize and use medical marijuana, women will likely start smoking marijuana more. Men are also more likely to abuse alcohol than women.
  • Women are more likely to receive emergency opioid use and abuse treatment than men. Women use more prescription medication (pain killers) than men. This is mainly because women are more likely to experience chronic pain and other physical conditions than men.
  • Men and women abuse stimulants almost equally. Their abuse rate of cocaine, methamphetamine, and other stimulants are almost similar. Young women are more likely to become addicted to stimulant abuse and suffer more damage to their health than men (7).


Disturbingly, overdose death among women is increasing. The CDC reports a more than 400% increase in female overdose deaths since 1999 compared to 265% in males (8). Every day, up to 18 women die from opioid overdose in the United States. Even more disturbing is that most of these drugs are obtained through prescriptions.


Treatment Options and Solutions for Addiction Among Genders


Statistically, women’s substance abuse disorders are more stigmatized than men (9). Women’s substance addiction treatments are less likely to be acknowledged. Resulting in much less available data about the prevalence and patterns of female substance use and treatment needs. Significant barriers such as cultural taboos and stigma also hamper women from accessing SUD treatments.

Men are more likely to receive specialized care at a drug treatment facility. There are many obstacles that may prevent women from seeking specialized drug treatment. These include lower incomes, the need for childcare, and the possibility of pregnancy. Loss of child custody, social stigma, and repercussions from a partner can discourage women from enrolling in rehab.
Check out the following statistics from a 2014 SAMHSA report:

  • Approximately 33% of rehab admissions in 2011 were women. 67% were men
  • Over 81% of men versus 61% of women receive treatment for marijuana addiction
  • The primary drug of abuse for most female admissions was alcohol
  • Three times more women than men aged 65 and older reported addiction to pain relievers

From the above study, it is evident that many past drug abuse treatments were male-focused. However, the increase in the awareness of gender-specific substance abuse issues has begun to take precedence. We now know that drug addiction patterns vary by not only gender but also age.

For example, young girls and older women have much higher prescription drug abuse rates than males within the same age group. The numbers are relatively equal among young and middle-aged adults of both sexes.


Why Gender Matters


The significant disparity in SUD rates between men and women is wanting. These differences range from increased social pressure to greater access and opportunities. There is a greater genetic disposition to using and abusing substances than many people realize.

Having gender-specific programs can benefit both men and women in many ways. Both sexes recover much better in treatment facilities and continued care if their treatment programs are specialized.

Many drug addictions and treatments were previously studied in both sexes from a male perspective. Drug rehabilitation facilities and drug abuse prevention programs are working on tailoring their treatment facilities to suit both men and women. Drug abuse prevention facilities are no longer designed with an emphasis on the men’s needs but on women’s needs, too.

Preventive education and outreach campaigns have helped shine more light on the greater genetic disposition to substance use and abuse. Drug addiction treatment programs and rehabilitation centers are now tailored to address the specific needs of patients.

Gender-specific addiction treatment programs continue to provide relief from the social, environmental, and biological stressors of addiction. Patients from either sex can now focus exclusively on their detox and recovery. They can do so without worrying about interactions with the opposite sex.


Co-Ed Addiction Treatment Programs Work


Both men and women can benefit significantly from comprehensive addiction treatment programs encompassing their full care continuum. Restore Detox Centers uses patient-focused and holistic treatment approaches for each patient, depending on several factors.

Restore Detox Centers provides patient-specific addiction treatment programs and include:

Addiction treatment centers are, more effective at helping addicts recover from addictions, substance abuse disorders, and mental health conditions. Rehab and addiction treatment programs for men and women have also proven to lead to better overall outcomes. They allow facilities to focus on addiction issues unique to each gender and work on treating them.

Addiction treatment centers can help addicts of both genders recover from addiction and regain control of their lives. Drug abuse-related gender differences stem from different histories, body composition, and physiologies.

Men and women experience different consequences resulting from their substance abuse and addictions. This makes having separate addiction treatment programs an excellent option. It allows patients to focus intently on their individual recovery, improving the treatment’s chance of success.


Get Addiction Treatment in San Diego with Restore Detox


The more research conducted about addiction, the more we understand the need to provide patient-specific treatment. Restore Detox Centers ensures patients get a rehab experience that suits their needs. Tour our facility and check out our individualized addiction treatment options for recovery.
Science and clinical trials continue to play critical roles in establishing key differences in addiction among genders. While men have higher dependence rates on drugs and alcohol, the gap seems to be closing among the younger population.

At Restore Detox Centers, we offer specialized addiction treatment programs. It is our aim to help our patients to know the gift of freedom from drugs and alcohol. Call (858) 302-4417 or fill out our contact form to regain control of your life.




About Restore

Are you or someone you care about struggling with drug or alcohol addiction in San Diego, California? Look no further than Restore Detox Centers, the leading 24-hour residential treatment facility. Our dedicated team is committed to providing effective rehabilitation services tailored to your individual needs.

We understand the challenges you face on your path to recovery, which is why we offer a comprehensive range of programs, including medically assisted detox and residential treatment. Our ultimate goal is to guide you towards a life free from addiction and help you achieve long-term success. 

Rest assured that our facility is accredited by The Joint Commission, guaranteeing the highest standards of quality and safety. You can rely on our compassionate team of professionals to support you every step of the way. 

If you're ready to take the first step towards healing, don't hesitate to contact Restore Detox Centers today. Let us be your trusted partner in your journey to recovery.

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