College-age men are the face of public service announcements about the dangers of drug and alcohol use. The common image most people conjure when they think of the term “drug addict” is an older, homeless male. Often, in our mind’s image, we imagine him begging for change for his next fix. Sure, it’s true that statistically men are more likely to abuse alcohol, heroin, or marijuana. And, that men tend to need treatment for substance use disorder at greater rates than women. However, this “addiction gap” between the genders is rapidly narrowing. Recent studies find biological evidence that women tend to react differently to mood- and mind-altering substances than men. This results in something many know as “telescope phenomenon.”
This refers to the fact that evidence shows that women more rapidly increase the amount and severity of their drug and alcohol use once they start, become addicted faster, and can have more trouble avoiding relapse once they achieve abstinence from substances. What causes this divergence, and what does it mean for addiction therapy programs?
Differences in Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Why would members of the same species- human beings- respond differently to drug and alcohol abuse? First, let’s look at the data on abuse and addiction patterns between males and females. According to a peer-reviewed scientific study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), biological sex is a factor in drug and alcohol consumption behavior. Research shows that while men are about twice as likely to abuse drugs and to become dependent on drugs than women (NIH), women experience a process called “telescoping” differently than men do with regard to substances. This means that, according to studies conducted by national health organizations, women accelerate their use more quickly. And become drug-dependent much faster than men. Thus, leading them to experience a different set of social, mental, and physical symptoms. And, present them with more severe challenges when they do enter addiction therapy or treatment.
In concert with this trend, women are statistically catching up with men in terms of rates of substance abuse. Today, rates of stimulant and alcohol abuse are similar between the sexes. But, women have been shown to be more likely to abuse prescription opioids than their male counterparts. What accounts for this? Well, the answer may lie in both social and subtle biological differences.
Biological Effects of Drug and Alcohol Use By Gender
Research has shown that hormonal differences in males and females can cause differences in response to substances. In women, the body produces a hormone called estradiol. When women have high levels of estradiol and low levels of progesterone in their system, they experience more intense effects from stimulants like cocaine. The stress response (through the production of adrenaline hormones) is higher in women who experience “cues”, such as images of drugs. This suggests that women experience more intense cravings or physical responses to drug triggers, according to the NIH study. Most women also produce lower levels of the enzymes that process alcohol, meaning that alcohol is more easily absorbed by the female body than the male body.
There are other factors that impact drug and alcohol use based on gender, too. Women are statistically more likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder and also experience higher rates of sexual and physical abuse, resulting in increased rates of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. All of these factors, biological and social, cause women to tend to react differently to drugs. And as evidence shows, to experience more severe symptoms of dependence earlier on in their drug and alcohol use history.
How Can Addiction Therapy Better Help Women?
Men and women tend to experience addiction in different ways. So, there is ample evidence that gender-specific addiction therapy and treatment is the most effective model for helping women recover from substance dependence. The same study that charts the biological and social factors that may make women more susceptible to the “telescope effect” also showed that gender-specific programs are better at addressing the clinical needs of women who seek addiction therapy through treatment. This is because, according to research published by the US National Library of Medicine, most traditional treatment models are based on addressing men, who have traditionally been the population that more commonly seeks addiction therapy.
Gender-specific programs demonstrate an increase in effectiveness for treating women. And, for promoting abstinence after treatment. This is because these models can focus on issues that often contribute to or complicate substance abuse in women. These issues may include social stigmas, the experience of trauma, mood and personality disorders, self-image problems, family dynamic and role, and relapse triggers. In gender-specific addiction therapy, women are more likely to develop peer social support groups. These groups can help individuals who are at a greater risk of relapse to a lack of support. Family and interpersonal relationships, which are affected by society’s prescribed roles for gender, can also be more effectively addressed in gender-specific treatment. Women with a history of trauma or with significant physical and emotional struggles, such as HIV or hepatitis C infection as the result of drug use, may often feel more comfortable addressing these issues in gender-specific addiction therapy.
Gender-Specific Addiction Therapy
The disease of addiction does not discriminate. This progressive and chronic ailment affects people of any race, gender, age, or background, and the tragic consequences of failing to treat it are similar no matter who is affected. However, there are biological and social factors that cause addiction to manifest differently within different groups. Most notably, between men and women.
Recovery and health are possible for everyone who struggles with addiction or alcoholism. However, treatment programs that tailor addiction therapy to address specific needs have higher rates of success. This is simply because they address the unique factors that contribute to addiction in that population. Willow Place for Women is a gender-specific treatment program in West Palm Beach, Florida that focuses on treating women who suffer from addiction with holistic and traditional methods. By using a gender-specific model, Willow Place is able to provide its clients with a high-quality, individual treatment. Here, we truly facilitate healing for women. If you want to learn more about the gender-specific treatment program at Willow Place for Women, call 1-888-651-4212.