Fact: Women Experience Addiction Differently Than Men

For decades, the larger portion of addiction research has been conducted only on men. Only in the 1990s did the government mandate that women be included in addiction research as study participants. Even with this research still being fairly young, some notable differences are being made regarding addiction in men and women. For instance, men are more likely than women to abuse drugs and alcohol, but women are more likely to require medical hospitalization for substance abuse or have a fatal overdose. Many of these differences are due to sociologic differences, but there are also biological differences. Here are some facts that can help you better understand addiction in women.


Women are more likely to become dependent on prescription opioids like oxycontin and illicit opioids like heroin. This also tends to happen more quickly in women than men. Part of the reason is due to the chemical composition of the brain which leads to elevated dopamine responses. But men tend to abuse  opioids more than women, and experience a higher fatal overdose rate, at 27 men per day as opposed to 19 women per day. Women who abuse opioids are younger than their male counterparts, more likely to abuse smaller amounts for a shorter time, and less likely to inject the drugs. Anchored Tides Recovery in Huntington Beach, CA understands the necessity of individualized treatment plans and is committed to helping addicts get on the road to recovery.


America’s most abused substance is alcohol. While both men and women suffer from alcoholism, women are eight percent behind the 20% of men who struggle with alcohol use disorder (AUD). Women generally have a lower tolerance for alcohol, which means that for women less alcohol use is needed to become dependent than for men. This is due in part to the fact that women are smaller and weigh less than men. Another alarming statistic is that women are more likely to experience alcohol-related health consequences including a greater risk of developing breast cancer, heart disease, and liver disease.


Although men are three times as likely to smoke marijuana daily than women, both sexes have an equal rates of addiction treatment admissions. While men experience more intense highs than women, women are more likely to experience more spatial memory impairment. Panic attacks and anxiety disorders are more prevalent in women who use marijuana than men. More men who use marijuana have co-occurring substance use disorders.


Hormones play a major role in stimulant addiction for men and women. Due to the changes in the female body during the menstrual cycle, women have more stimulant cravings than men and a higher incidence of relapse. Women also report their first stimulant use at a younger age than men. It is hypothesized that the estrogen dominance in women that affects the dopamine reward center of the brain is partly responsible for women becoming addicted to cocaine and methamphetamines more quickly and taking larger doses than men. Women also report indulging in stimulants to help keep up with the demands and pressures of life or for weight loss.

Whatever your sex, seeking treatment for addiction is what’s most important. If you’re not sure where or how to start on your path to recovery, talk to your healthcare provider, mental health professional, or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.