In general, substance abuse affects more men than women. However, as a result, women can be seen as invisible when it comes to the topic, the impacts, and the proposed solutions. Furthermore, women are more likely to face certain challenges specific to them when they fall into a substance abuse habit. Here, we’re going to look at how substance abuse affects women, as well as what we can do to help those that it does affect.

Why women develop addictions

Everyone with a substance abuse problem has their own story and their own reasons to falling into the habit in the first place. However, women are likely to develop an addiction for different reasons than men, statistically speaking. For one, women are a lot more likely to fall into pathways to substance abuse related to their partners than they are to develop those habits independently.

Women often begin to abuse alcohol or drugs as a result of poor self-esteem, depression, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Eating disorders are also linked to an increased risk of substance abuse. A history of physical and sexual abuse is also tied to the fact that women with mental and emotional illnesses are likely to fall into addiction. Drugs and alcohol are often used as a form of self-medication.

A family history of substance abuse also plays a role in addiction cases for both men and women. There is a strong genetic component, meaning that people with parents or grandparents who have had addictions may be more prone to them, themselves. Understanding the risk factors that lead to substance abuse can inform the treatment of it, including which kinds of therapy and counselling may be most effective.

Differences in how women are affected by substance abuse

Just as important as the differences in pathways to alcohol and drug abuse are the different mental and physical impacts that it can have on women. Some of these points show statistical differences in outcomes as a result or abuse, while others are directly related to how certain substances affect the physiology of women compared to men. These differences include:

  • Women are likely to respond to drugs and alcohol different from men. While women are likely to use smaller amounts, they often become addicted in shorter periods of time and are likely to have more cravings. They are also more likely to experience a relapse after treatment.
  • Women are more likely to experience severe stress and panic attacks as a result of substance abuse.
  • Women are more likely to take trips to the emergency room as a result of overdose on illicit drugs, or other health issues related to them than men.
  • Substance abuse can have different long-term effects on the physical and mental health of women. For instance, they are more likely to experience negative impacts on the health of their health and blood vessels. Women may also have more adverse effects on their gastrointestinal and neuromuscular systems as a result of drug abuse.
  • Stimulants and opioids can also have unexpected effects on a woman’s menstrual cycle and hormonal cycles, which can also mean that they have much more powerful cravings at certain times of month.

In general, women experience more adverse health effects and develop physical dependencies more quickly than men. As such, early intervention can be essential to prevent those physical impacts from taking hold and addressing the health risks associated with drug abuse is often a key part of the treatment.

Substance abuse and pregnancy

Pregnant women are some of the most at-risk when it comes to the negative impacts of substance abuse. In the case of alcohol abuse, there is a huge risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which can negatively impact growth, the development of the central nervous system, and cause a range of craniofacial abnormalities.

There are a range of other impacts that drug and alcohol abuse can have on pregnant women, including complications like:

  • Premature births
  • Low birth weights
  • Spontaneous abortion
  • Fetal abnormalities
  • Early separation of the placenta from the uterine wall
  • And more

Women and alcohol

The male and female body each processes alcohol differently, leading to different risks and effects on long-term health. For instance, women are likely to feel the effects of both alcohol exposure and long-term abuse because women have less water and fat content in their bodies. Women also break down alcohol less effectively than men. As such, they are twice as likely to feel the physical impacts of drinking, which includes an increased risk of liver disease.

Other risks of substance abuse in women

Not only can drugs and alcohol have a severe impact on the physical and emotional health of women, but the risks can extend past the effects of the substances themselves. Abuse of illicit drugs can make women more vulnerable to sexual assault and diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, whether sexually transmitted or through other means such as sharing needles.

Social and environmental factors also play a role in how women tend to face drug addiction. In general, women are more likely to have other dependents and responsibilities that can be affected by substance abuse. Women are more likely to live with children and to have the pressures of managing the child welfare system. Since substance abuse is less common in women, they are often underserved by existing treatment and support services. Furthermore, women face a lot of stigma when addressing alcohol and drug abuse problems, which can lead them to being isolated and unable to access help.

The signs of substance abuse in women

Depending on the type of substance, whether it’s alcohol or illicit drugs, the signs and symptoms that a women is affected by an addiction can change from person to person. However, here are some indicators that you can keep an eye out for:

  • Dramatic mood swings and new changes in behavior
  • Isolation and withdrawal from loved ones and past interests
  • A decrease in personal grooming standards
  • Changing in sleeping patterns
  • Failing responsibilities, such as neglecting work, education, and childcare
  • Driving, working, or caring for children under the influence
  • Being arrested for behaviors such as disorderly conduct or driving under the influence
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they haven’t indulged in their addiction, such as having the shakes in the morning
  • Drinking more or taking more drugs as their body builds a tolerance and it’s harder for them to get a high

The longer an addiction goes on, the easier the effects become to spot. However, if you have any concern that a woman in your life is having trouble with substance abuse, getting in touch for advice is recommended.

How Opus Treatment can help women with substance abuse issues

Because women feel the impacts of substance abuse in a wide spectrum throughout their lives, attention must be paid to all aspects. This includes not just the physical dependency itself, but the other health implications, the emotional and spiritual effects, and how it can impact their entire family system. As such, substance abuse treatment for women is more likely to include a greater focus on relationships with family and support systems, financial challenges, and social stigmas.

At Opus Treatment, we can help women facing addiction and their loved ones find the dedicated path of treatment that can help them heal in the long-term. Every plan of action is crafted to the needs of the individual, so if any of the unique impacts of substance abuse on women mentioned above is affecting you or the person you love, we can help address it.