Why Women Telescope Into Drug Abuse Faster than Men
Researchers in the field of drug addiction have been able to pinpoint certain differences in the way men and women abuse drugs. Some of the reasons for these differences are biological, and others have to do with the importance women place on their emotions and relationships.
Male high school students, for example, tell researchers that they experiment with alcohol and party drugs in order to get high, be social, and impress their friends. While girls the same age also say they drink for acceptance, they mention emotional reasons boys do not, such as boredom and depression.
One major long-term study from the University of Michigan found that as women move into their 30s and 40s, their levels of substance abuse lessen. This is true of males as well. However, female levels of depression accelerate as women get older, and this accelerates substance abuse. The severity of women’s depression can depend on their personal relationships. For example, if their marriages develop problems or their children are antisocial, many woman become more depressed and this in turn leads to more substance abuse.
All women are biologically more susceptible to mood and anxiety disorders than men are. However, among female substance abusers, the rates of mood and anxiety disorders are even higher with 29.6% having mood disorders and anxiety affecting 26.2%, according to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, rape, and abuse, and this too makes them more likely to experience depression and posttraumatic stress syndrome. Research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that the prevalence of posttraumatic stress syndrome is 1.5 to five times higher among substance abusers.
Men’s rates of drug abuse are close to twice that of women, but that is because men use more heroin and marijuana. There is no gender gap when it comes to certain other drugs. Women equal or surpass men in their abuse of prescription painkillers, the most popularly abused drugs today. One study in the Clinical Journal of Pain found that women with chronic pain were more likely to hoard their supplies of these drugs and combine them with other prescriptions to enhance their effects.
There is also no gender gap among abusers of stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine. This may be partly due to women’s hormonal cycles. Several studies have found that women experience a heightened effect when they smoke cocaine during the ovulation phase of their menstrual cycle. Stimulants also aid weight loss and maintenance, another factor for many female drug abusers. Most people with eating disorders are women: 90% of bulimics and anorexics, for example. The co-occurrence of eating disorders and substance abuse disorders is about 40%, according to a study from the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
Female drug abusers "telescope" more quickly than their male counterparts. Telescoping refers to the progression of drug abuse from first-time use to addiction to admission to treatment. Women who enter substance abuse treatment centers typically have more medical, psychological, behavioral, and social problems than male counterparts, even if they have used their drugs in smaller amounts and for shorter periods of time. Drug addiction progresses more quickly in women and does more damage to their bodies faster for biological reasons.
Sadly, women drug abusers are much less likely to seek treatment for their problems. The reasons are that women are more likely to live in poverty and to encounter practical problems when they enter treatment, such as making child care arrangements and managing their homes. They also tell researchers that, compared to men, they believe there is more stigma attached to being a woman abusing drugs. Finally, many female drug abusers are simply too depressed to take any action whatsoever, including entering drug treatment. Women tend to suffer in silence. The ones who do find the power to enter treatment for drug abuse achieve the same rates of success as men.