In 2013, an estimated 25 million Americans reported using illicit recreational drugs within the past year. Drug abuse is a nationwide health issue. This has been problematic in many communities. Drug abuse can affect anyone. People in any and every race, ethnicity, gender, and even across age groups, can become addicted to drugs, tobacco, and/or alcohol. With that being said, the treatment and presentation of the illness may vary between people of different demographics. Does drug abuse vary by gender? The short answer to this question is yes. The expanded answer is that gender affects certain aspects of the disease. The differences are notable enough to be measured and researched.
People often wonder whether or not gender has any significant effect on substance abuse trends. And if it does play a role, to what extent? There is also the question of what aspects of drug abuse show sex and gender differences. When looking at factors contributing to drug abuse, one must consider multiple factors the feed into initiation, progression, and severity of the disease. The presentation of substance use disorder varies in some areas based on biological or genetic, social, cultural, and environmental differences. Clinicians must consider all of this, and factor it into the treatment plan for each individual patient.
Research involving gender differences and drug abuse has found that men use more illicit drugs than women. And they also use these drugs in higher amounts than women. In the 2013 National Study of Drug Abuse and Health, 12% of males in the United States reported using illicit drugs within the past year. Not too far behind, 7 percent of women in the U.S reported using illicit drugs at least once in the past year.
Because men tend to use more drugs, emergency rooms tend to see a higher number of men for illicit drug-related visits and overdose symptoms. Men are also more likely to engage in binge drinking behaviors. Binge drinking is classified as 5 or more drinks on an occasion for men. And 4 or more drinks on an occasion for women. Men and women have different patterns of drugs use, mainly because of biology. If you put an average man and woman side by side, the woman will most likely be smaller than the man. Women generally weigh less than men, which means that there is less water in the bodies of women. If a woman were to drink the same amount of alcohol or take the same amount of drugs as a man, the woman would be much more impaired. Men also show higher rates of using multiple drugs at a time than women.
Studies show that males generally start experimenting with illicit drugs earlier than females. Females ages 12 to 17 have a higher prevalence of abuse of prescription medications than males of the same age group. Males in that same age bracket are using more alcohol and illicit recreational drugs than the females.
Men may use more illicit drugs, but women show higher rates in the misuse of prescription pain pills, especially in the younger age groups. Overall, more men misuse prescription medication than women, but the gap is slowly getting smaller each year as more teens and young women abuse prescription meds.
There is also research that suggests Estrogen may play a role in how the brain responds to certain drugs, for example, Cocaine. Preliminary findings show that Estrogen may increase a woman’s response to the drug, which in turn creates a stronger urge for repeat use. This may shed some light as to one of the reasons that woman tend to struggle with more severe psychological distress from Substance use disorder. Without drugs being involved, women are already more likely to suffer from mental health conditions. Such as depression and anxiety. When combined with substance abuse, co-occurring mental health conditions have the potential to become more severe than before. This can create a stronger cycle of substance abuse and mental illness. Psychological distress can lead to an increase in drug use, while drug use increases psychological distress.
Without gender being involved, there is a gap in the number of people that fit the criteria for a substance use disorder and the number of people that get help of a substance use disorder. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates almost 22 million Americans fit the criteria for substance use disorder and should consider getting help. However, only 3 million of those citizens actually seek out that help. For a very long time, substance abuse treatment facilities and services have been geared towards the treatment needs of men. Of course, many facilities treat women, but they often fail to meet the specific needs of women. Women are least likely to seek help for a substance use disorder and they have the higher rate of relapse after getting help. The Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) study is a study of admissions to substance abuse treatment centers. From data obtained in the Treatment Episode Data Set study, it was determined that out of all of the admissions to rehab in 2011, only 33 percent of them were women. The majority of women who sought treatment were there for alcohol abuse.
Millions of men and women use drugs and/or suffer from addiction. Neither gender is more likely than the other to become an addict. As stated before, anyone can have a substance use disorder. It is important to keep in mind that gender is only a single factor in the trends of drug abuse. Aside from gender, other factors that affect drug abuse can include relationship problems like divorce, childhood or present sexual or physical abuse, emotional or mental abuse, sexual orientation, and even unemployment. At the end of the day, it is important that we look at all of the things that contribute to why people struggle with drug abuse.
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