USA: Key Facts About Substance Use in Women
Women face unique issues when using harmful substances. The National Institute of Drug Abuse of the United States outlines women specific substance use problems.
Scientists who study substance use have discovered that women who use drugs can have issues related to hormones, menstrual cycle, fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause.
- 19.5 million females (or 15.4%) ages 18 or older have used illicit drugs in the past year.
- 8.4 million females (or 6.6%) ages 18 and older have misused prescription drugs in the past year.
Science has found:
- Women can get addicted to substances by using smaller amounts and in shorter time than men.
- Women may have more cravings for substances and are more likely to relapse after treatment.
- Sex hormones make women more sensitive to certain drugs than men.
- Women may experience more physical effects of substances such as on the heart and blood vessels.
- There are different brain changes when women use drugs than when men do.
- Women are more likely to go to the emergency room or die from overdose or other effects of certain substances.
- Women who are victims of domestic violence are at increased risk of substance use.
- Divorce, loss of child custody, or the death of a partner or child can trigger women’s substance use or other mental health disorders.
- Women who use certain substances may be more likely to have panic attacks, anxiety, or depression.
Substance use while pregnant or breastfeeding
Substance use during pregnancy is harmful for both the woman and the unborn baby. These harms include:
- Higher risk of miscarriage.
- Migraines, seizures, or high blood pressure in the mother, which may affect her fetus.
- 2 to 3 times greater risk of stillbirth in women who smoke tobacco or marijuana, take prescription pain relievers, or use illegal drugs during pregnancy.
- More women are using marijuana during pregnancy than in past years, which could result in smaller babies and goes against the advice from the top medical group representing obstetricians.
- Increased risk of the baby going through withdrawal after birth, a condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
Substance use disorder treatment for women
As women’s patterns of substance use and risks and harms are different than those for men, treatment for women should also be different.
- Women’s substance use tends to progress more quickly from first use to addiction.
- Withdrawal may be more intense for women.
- Women respond differently than men to certain treatments.
- Women in treatment need specific support for handling the burdens of work, home care, child care, and other family responsibilities.