There are fundamental differences between men and women, and this extends to the realm of substance abuse. While overall men have higher rates of substance abuse and dependence, women are “harder hit” and sustain more impact from their destructive behavior patterns. Initially, women have been found to use their drug of choice at lower levels; however, their use elevates more quickly than men. This means that a woman’s life will spiral out of control more quickly and she will be prone to engaging in risky behaviors like intravenous drug use and sexual promiscuity at higher rates. This is a phenomenon known as “telescoping”.
It seems that women are also attracted to drug and alcohol use for different reasons. While men are more likely to be drawn to the risk-taking aspects of substance abuse, women are more apt to cite mood regulation and stress reduction as their main motivation for using drugs and alcohol. In general, women are less inclined to seek treatment—this is due to factors such as practical concerns and child care issues, as well as the enormous social stigma surrounding drug and alcohol abuse. Women are more concerned about their image in society due to social programming—they want to maintain their roles as wives, mothers, and sisters despite the issues caused by their substance abuse. This only leads to further destruction in their lives. Entering and maintaining a strong recovery program are essential to repairing these roles in a woman’s life.
Science points to biological components that greatly impact women during substance abuse episodes. Women are more sensitive to stimulants like amphetamine and cocaine, and have a harder time quitting or cutting back than men. Changes in hormone levels throughout the month will alter the way the woman reacts to certain chemical substances in their body, making drug use more appealing at certain times and stifling her efforts to discontinue use. Many women claim that weight loss or maintenance of current weight are a significant deterrent or barrier to committing to a recovery program. Additionally, women have greater rates of relapse on average, making a stable and consistent treatment program a necessity for long term abstinence.