Current Research on Women and Substance Abuse

Hazelden recently released a two-page report entitled Women and Substance Abuse (April 2011) through the Butler Center for Research. The Research Update illustrates some of the physiological and psychological differences women experience when it comes to substance use.

Physiological Differences
The report notes that research has shown us that women differ from men when it comes to alcohol and drug use. For example, studies show:

  • Women initiate cocaine use sooner than men and become addicted to cocaine more quickly
  • Women who drink heavily also face greater health risks compared to men, including cirrhosis, heart damage, and brain damage
  • Once women begin to drink regularly, they progress to alcohol dependence more quickly than men

Psychological Differences
In addition to the physiological differences between men and women, women who experience substance use disorders often are dealing with a mental health condition. According to the report, 82% of women receiving residential treatment at Hazelden’s Center City location had at least one other mental health disorder in addition to substance dependence in 2010. For men in the same residential program, 68% experienced a co-occurring mental health disorder. These findings are consistent with other studies and consistent with what Crossroads for Women sees in its residential programs.

Barrier to Treatment
The presence of another mental health disorder tends to complicate things for women in treatment. For example, a co-occurring disorder may prevent women from treating their substance abuse problem because they may see their issues coming from their mental health diagnosis and not their substance use. The report suggests that simultaneous treatment of both disorders is critical for women to ultimately achieve long term success.

Research clearly shows that women have different experiences when it comes to substance abuse. These differences make a strong case for more gender-focused treatment facilities.

Source: Butler Center for Research, April 2011 Download the report (PDF)