Why Do Women Become Addicted?
A host of recent research has demonstrated that men and women experience the challenges of substance use disorder in significantly different ways. These progressions of substance use are not without their overlap, but any needs-based substance use treatment must take their differences into account, if it is to be effective in breaking the cycle of addiction. Centers for drug and alcohol addiction treatment in San Diego have begun to address these differences with innovative, gender-responsive treatment plans, which span a wide range of evidence-based and holistic therapies. At WCRC’s sober living environment at Oceanside, the staff maintain a supportive and compassionate setting dedicated to meeting clients’ recovery needs, including those which relate to unique personal experiences and societal pressures.
What follows is a brief summary of some of the reasons why women, specifically, begin to develop substance use dependence. WCRC provides a gender-responsive treatment environment. The staff offers decades of cumulative expertise, including years of individual experience, in providing successful treatment and support to individuals who have been subject to these experiences in particular.
Why Do Women Use Addictive Substances?
One of the most common factors involved in substance use in women is the existence of an abusive relationship. Trends in domestic violence correlate strongly with an increased risk for substance use. It is important to acknowledge this within any needs-based substance use treatment. A woman who is trapped in an abusive relationship will require additional assistance in order to avoid a relapse, as well as different kinds of help than (for example) someone whose substance use is informed by a co-occurring disorder.
Abuse does not have to be ongoing in order to inform an individual’s substance use disorder, or to contribute to a relapse after ineffective treatment. Among women and young adults in particular, residual trauma from severe abuse as a child, including that which occurred many years previously, will often be a contributing factor to the development of opioid dependence. This trauma may be triggered by recent events or experiences that are reminiscent of the childhood trauma, or which otherwise serve to remind an individual of said experiences.
The baseline answer for “what causes a person to turn to chronic drug use” is stress. Long-term stress is the number one direct contributor. As a general rule people whose needs are being satisfied, and who are not under significant long-term stress, do not develop substance use disorders. Ultimately, in terms of psychological and social social factors, contributing factors to a person’s substance use boil down to “what is most likely to cause chronic stress within this individual’s life.” One of the leading causes of chronic stress for women in the greater metropolitan San Diego area is personal loss: the death of a loved one, a divorce, or the loss of child custody.
Both men and women are more likely to turn to the use of addictive substances in the event of a severe professional setback: the loss of a job, or the failure of a business venture. This also applies to personal finances, as with rejection for a personal loan. For women, however, the perception of professional or financial failure is a higher risk factor for substance use. Women are more likely than men to develop chronic substance use concerns in response to being passed over for a raise, or for a promotion, for example. This is likely due, at least in part, to the societal pressure placed on women to measure their self-worth by way of their professional success in male-dominated fields and industries.
Biologically, an adult woman’s delivery systems for hormones and vital nutrients are very efficient. This is due to the additional strain placed on her body by the processes involved in bearing healthy children. Evolution has resulted women possessing a fine-tuned biological delivery network, which men do not develop to the same degree. As a result of this, substances which hijack this network also work more efficiently than they do in men. Women develop substance use disorders more quickly than men, and from smaller, less frequent doses of the same substances.
In addition to the reasons summarized above, there are other causes for substance use disorder that are more likely to affect women than men, and the progress of the disorder itself is also influenced by both biological sex and social gender roles. Some of these will be addressed in greater detail in subsequent posts. The idea of gender-responsive therapy is not that men or women deserve special treatment; it’s that by addressing needs that are more likely to be relevant to an individual, based on a wide range of contributing factors, their treatment is far more likely to be successful. Gender-relevance in mindfulness-based therapeutic modalities has already been shown to greatly reduce an individual’s risk of relapsing, while providing them with broadly-based skills for coping constructively with future sources of anxiety and stress.