Addiction: Men Versus Women

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While research has shown that there are differences in how and why opioid addiction manifests in men and women, a 2017 Canadian study suggests those gender differences do not significantly affect the effectiveness of Medication-Assisted Treatment.

Researchers also sought to explore whether women and men have a different perception of how effective their treatment program was. This was done by asking open-ended questions on the reasons why participants thought their treatment helped.

Of special relevance, among both women and men, better health and improved quality of life were the most-cited reasons determining treatment effectiveness.

This is especially promising news, because it indicates that the effectiveness of evidence-based addiction treatment – including the use of medications – is not hindered by gender barriers. Encouragingly, each gender experienced positive improvement that helped them believe in their treatment.

Gender Differences and Addiction

“…men and women who are addicted to opioids have very different demographics and health needs…”

~Dr. Monica Bawor, PhD, McMaster University

People tend to think of the “typical” substance abuser as a man. And while it IS true that there are more men than women currently in rehab for an addictive disorder – by about a 2-to-1 margin – the reasons for and consequences of that abuse vary between the sexes.

Compared to men, women:

  • Begin using substances later in life.
  • Are significantly influenced by partners or spouses to use.
  • Maintain substance use for different reasons.
  • Progress from initiation of use to dependence faster.
  • Seek treatment earlier.
  • Are more likely to have a co-occurring mental disorder such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc.
  • Self-medicate with substances as a coping mechanism more often.

Significantly, women who are pregnant or who have dependent children face additional challenges. They often avoid seeking treatment (a) they worry about how they will care for their children while participating in rehab, (b) fear the potential involvement of Child Protective Services, or (c), think that they will lose custody to an ex or another family member.

Gender Differences and Opioid Addiction

These gender differences are particularly relevant in the case of opioid painkillers. Again, compared to men, women are more likely to:

  • Struggle with chronic pain from such conditions as endometriosis, migraine, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
  • Have a lower pain threshold. This is noteworthy because individuals suffering moderate-to-severe pain have a 41% higher risk of developing an opioid addiction.
  • Be prescribed opioid painkillers for chronic issues.
  • Receive higher dosages. This is significant, because there is often no adjustment for typically-lower body weight.
  • Take opioid painkillers longer.
  • Obtain multiple/fraudulent prescriptions.

These gender-linked differences in opioid abuse has weighty consequences – Just being female raises the risk of past-year opioid painkiller abuse by 43%. Every 3 minutes, a woman goes to the ER in America because of opioids.

What Does All This Mean?

These findings are positive, because they demonstrate that evidence-based addiction treatment WORKS, regardless of who you are or why you use drugs. The best rehab programs are so effective because they offer comprehensive services that can be tailored to the individual.

Since 1978, Chapman House has provided a superior path of recovery for anyone struggling with substance abuse – alcoholism, drug addiction, or the misuse of prescription medications. Located conveniently in Orange County, Chapman House is one of the most-trusted rehab programs in Southern California.

If you need help, contact Chapman House TODAY for a confidential assessment.

by Albert Fontenot