Published On: November 16, 2022

Sex and Gender Differences in Addiction

Drug abuse statistics in the United States paint a startling picture: more than 59 million Americans aged 12 and over use drugs at least once a year. Of this population, more than 39 million misuse prescription opioids and other illegal drugs. A closer look reveals that males outstrip females in almost every category of drug use, which begs the question: Is there a correlation between gender and addiction? If so, how do gender and sex differences affect addiction treatment? Read on to see what the experts at Serenity Springs have to say about the matter.

What Is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction refers to a compulsive and hard-to-control desire for drugs that leads you to pursue and use drugs regardless of the harm they cause.

Drug addiction is a severe form of a disease called substance use disorder (SUD). Individuals with a drug addiction problem may be unable to function without the drug they crave.

The most commonly used drugs in the United States include:

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamines
  • Prescription opioids
  • Tobacco

When deprived of the drug you’re addicted to, you may experience distorted thoughts and feelings, including difficulty learning, remembering and making decisions. You may also exhibit abnormal behavior, including unusual communication patterns and limited social functioning.

Substance abuse has severe consequences. The United States records more than 70,000 overdose deaths annually. Moreover, people who abuse drugs often have a co-occurring mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Factors Contributing to Addiction

Many people assume drug addiction is a sign of an individual’s lack of discipline. However, drug addiction is a serious, incurable mental condition similar to conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and chronic pain.

While a lot of adults start to use drugs voluntarily for recreational purposes, only around 27% develop SUD. What contributes to these differences in addiction?

  • Genetic factors: Just as with conditions like breast cancer, drug addiction can run in the blood. Studies show that up to 60% of your genes can contribute to struggles with drug abuse and addiction. However, there’s no particular gene responsible for substance use disorder, and you can share the genes responsible for addiction with close relatives like aunts, uncles or grandparents.
  • Environmental factors: These account for 47% of drug use rates in people younger than 18. Being raised by people who abuse alcohol, getting peer pressured into trying drugs or experiencing sexual assault increases your chances of becoming an addict.

Often, genetic and environmental factors combine to determine your level of substance dependence. However, what role, if any, does sex or gender play a role in substance use disorder?

Sex and Drug Abuse

The World Health Organization defines sex as a person’s biological and physiological characteristics. Factors such as chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs determine your sex or, simply put, whether you’re considered male or female.

There are significant sex differences in addiction between males and females. While the former tend to start using drugs at an earlier age, the latter tend to progress faster from initial drug use to addiction. More women use higher quantities of drugs for a longer period compared to men.

Additionally, the effects produced by different drugs differ between the sexes. Studies show that while more males than females use marijuana, males experience greater levels of the “high” induced by weed compared to females. Similarly, marijuana abuse contributes to higher comorbid psychiatric disorders in females than males.

Conversely, females often take larger amounts of cocaine but exhibit similar impairments in concentration and learning compared to males who use less cocaine for a shorter period. Females also experience more regular blood flow to the brain after using cocaine than their male counterparts.

Females experience stronger withdrawal symptoms when trying to end their use of tobacco, while males have stronger symptoms of alcohol withdrawal than females.

However, most males can sustain sobriety for alcohol consumption and stimulant abuse longer than females.

Gender and Addiction

Gender refers to the attributes assigned to people based on their sex. Many societies assign males masculine attributes and females feminine attributes. These attributes contribute to the differences men and women experience due to drug use.

For a long time, it was more acceptable for men to use drugs recreationally than women. Consequently, men are more likely than women to use illicit drugs and experience higher rates of deaths from prescription opioid overdoses. Moreover, most men use drugs due to social pressure while women tend more to experiment with drugs when in the company of intimate partners.

In the past, women were more likely to develop an opioid addiction after receiving a prescription from a doctor. But with recreational drug use becoming more acceptable in American society, the gender gap in drug abuse is rapidly closing.

At the same time, drug abuse and alcohol use disorders vary when more demographical factors are used to further break down the genders. Gay and bisexual men report higher rates of drug dependence and alcohol use disorder. Men who served in any capacity in the military are twice as likely to experience alcohol misuse and abuse prescription medications compared to women.

Gender differences in substance use also affect the effectiveness of treatment for alcohol and substance use disorders. Only 20% of women seek treatment for substance abuse. A 2017 study links these low rates to the addiction stigma experienced by women suffering from alcohol abuse and misuse of illicit drugs. Women also receive less social support from loved ones and employers when seeking treatment for substance abuse. Thus, they’re more likely to be isolated when battling addiction, so it’s no wonder that up to 5% of pregnant women continue illicit drug use. This isolation also puts women at a higher risk of relapse even after successfully completing a treatment program.

Gender-Based Substance Abuse Treatment

Sex and gender differences in substance use play a big role in the type of treatment interventions used to treat men and women. Treatment facilities can’t apply a one-size-fits-all approach to substance use treatment, which is why it’s important for you to receive gender-based addiction treatment.

Serenity Springs Recovery Center in Florida has years of experience providing addiction treatment and support to men struggling with substance use disorder. We recognize differences in addiction between men and women and utilize an approach designed to provide men with the appropriate individual and social support to manage their drug addiction.

Our residential treatment program will help you start the first steps in addiction recovery. The health care and addiction treatment staff at Serenity Springs will monitor you through the intense withdrawal period, applying the appropriate treatment interventions to rid your system of drugs.

You can then undertake various forms of therapy, including group therapy, to build healthy coping mechanisms that will reduce your chances of relapse. We offer a continuum of care that ensures you’re encouraged and supported whenever you experience circumstances that can contribute to future relapses.

Visit our facilities at 1555 Cow Creek Rd., Edgewater, FL 32132 to see how we incorporate verified gender and addiction studies into our treatment methods. You can also call (386) 423-4540 to learn about the addiction treatment services that can benefit you.