Do Women Use Drugs & Alcohol Differently: A Study on Gender Differences

Do Women Use Drugs & Alcohol Differently: A Study on Gender Differences

Do Women Use Drugs & Alcohol Differently: A Study on Gender Differences

Sober living women in addiction recovery face distinct challenges when it comes to substance abuse.

This is affected in part by the following:


sex—biological distinctions

gender—differences in men’s and women’s culturally defined roles.


Substance abuse researchers have discovered that women who take drugs may experience hormonal imbalances, menstrual cycle irregularities, fertility problems, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause. Additionally, women in addiction recovery have their own specific reasons for using pharmaceuticals, which include weight control, tiredness, pain management, and attempts to self-treat mental health concerns.

Additionally, science has discovered the following: 19.5 million females of the population aged 18 or older had used illicit* substances in the previous year.*The term “illicit” refers to the use of illegal narcotics, which include marijuana under federal law, and prescription medication usage. Women frequently use substances differently than men in addiction recovery, such as consuming lesser doses of some drugs for a shorter period of time before developing an addiction. Women can react differently to chemicals.

For instance, they may experience increased drug cravings and are more prone to relapse following treatment. Sex hormones can make women in addiction recovery more susceptible to the effects of some medicines than males. Women in addiction recovery who use medications may also have a greater number of physical side effects affecting their heart and blood vessels. Women who use drugs may have brain alterations that are distinct from those seen by men. Women in addiction recovery may be more prone to seek medical attention or die as a result of an overdose or other adverse effects of certain substances.

Domestic violence victims are at an elevated risk of substance abuse.

Divorce, loss of custody of children, or the death of a partner or a child can all serve as triggers for women’s substance abuse or other mental health illnesses. Certain substances may increase a sober living woman’s risk of panic attacks, anxiety, or depression. Consumption of narcotics during pregnancy and nursing In the last year, 8.4 million females (or 6.6 percent) ages 18 and older had abused prescription medicines. Between 1999 and 2014, the number of sober living women experiencing an opioid use disorder during labor and delivery doubled.

Substance abuse during pregnancy poses both short- and long-term risks to the woman’s health and that of her unborn child. The majority of medicines, including opioids and stimulants, have the potential to cause harm to an unborn child. Certain substances can raise the risk of miscarriage and can trigger headaches, seizures, or hypertension in the sober living mother, all of which can affect the fetus. Additionally, women who smoke tobacco or marijuana, take prescription pain medicines, or use illegal drugs during pregnancy have a two to a threefold increased chance of stillbirth.

According to surveys, more women are consuming marijuana during pregnancy, which concerns health specialists. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends that marijuana usage during the first and second trimesters may result in smaller newborns. ACOG recommends that pregnant sober living women trying to conceive should abstain from marijuana use, even if it is for medical purposes, and consider better alternatives with their doctors. (Substance Use in Women Drug Facts, 2020)

Pregnant sober living women should see their physician before using any medications or drugs. When a sober living woman consumes certain substances consistently during pregnancy, the infant may have withdrawal symptoms following birth. The condition is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS has been associated with pregnant sober living women’s use of opioids, alcohol, caffeine, and several prescription sedatives. The type and severity of a newborn’s withdrawal symptoms are determined by the drug(s) used, the duration and frequency of use by the mother, the way the drug is metabolized by her body, and whether the baby was born full-term or preterm. NAS symptoms can manifest immediately or up to 14 days after birth in an infant. Several of these symptoms include the following:


  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • frequent or high-pitched screaming
  • fever
  • elevated heart rate
  • agitation
  • inadequate feeding
  • quick breathing
  • seizures
  • sluggish weight gain


However, nothing is known regarding the long-term consequences of these chemicals on a kid exposed to them through the mother’s milk. Scientists are aware that kids who use drugs while their brains are still developing may impair their ability to learn. As a result, identical chances of developing brain abnormalities may exist for drug-exposed infants. Given the potential for all substances to affect a baby’s developing brain, mothers who are nursing should discuss their substance usage with a healthcare professional.


Disparities in treatment for substance use disorders by gender and sex.

If a pregnant woman attempts to abruptly abstain from drugs and alcohol without medical assistance, she risks endangering her fetus. It is critical to keep in mind that treatment and recovery from substance use disorders may go differently in women than in men. When women in addiction start therapy, they report consuming certain substances for a shorter amount of time. Women’s substance use, on the other hand, tends to move more swiftly from initial usage to addiction. Withdrawal symptoms may also be more severe for women in addiction recovery. In some instances, women respond differently to particular treatments than males do. For example, nicotine replacement therapy (patch or gum) is not as effective for women as it is for men. Quitting can be difficult for anyone who has a substance use issue.

However, sober living women may be fearful of seeking help during or after pregnancy due to probable legal or social repercussions and a shortage of child care while undergoing therapy. Women in addiction recovery and treatment frequently require assistance with juggling the duties of a job, home care, child care, and other family obligations. Specific sober living programs for pregnant women can assist them in safely discontinuing drug usage while simultaneously providing prenatal care. Certain methods of recovery and treatment have demonstrated favorable outcomes, particularly when they include child care, parenting programs, and job training. Methadone and buprenorphine, when used in conjunction with the therapy described above, can enhance outcomes. Certain infants will continue to require treatment for withdrawal symptoms.

However, if the woman takes treatment medication during pregnancy, the baby has a better chance of survival than if she continues to use opioids. To learn more about sex and gender issues affecting sober house women who use substances, consult the Substance Use in Women Research Report.


The critical role of women in sober living and addiction recovery research.

Historically, women were excluded from the majority of studies due to the notion that women are more physiologically complex than men and that women were too preoccupied caring for their children to engage. Excluding specific subgroups of the study, on the other hand, results in knowledge that benefits only a portion of the public. Federal entities, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have played a critical role in advancing women’s inclusion in clinical research. These initiatives have resulted in the examination of broader public health issues concerning sex and gender.


Consider the following:


When it comes to substance abuse, women confront distinct challenges. These distinctions are influenced by sex (biological distinctions) and gender (differences based on culturally defined roles). Numerous distinctions have been discovered between how women and men use and react to substances. For example, women consume fewer drugs than males, yet they can feel the effects more intensely.Substance abuse during pregnancy can be harmful to both the pregnant sober living woman and her fetus. More pregnant women are consuming marijuana than in previous years, which may result in smaller infants and contradicts the advice of the leading medical body representing obstetricians. Certain medicines, particularly opioids, can trigger withdrawal symptoms in a newborn infant, a disease known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). Women’s substance usage is more likely to develop into addiction than men’s. Due to societal and legal concerns, it can be difficult for pregnant sober living women to seek help for a substance use problem during or after pregnancy.

Additionally, they may be unable to provide child care while undergoing therapy. Treatment and addiction recovery programs should address these concerns by providing child care, employment training, and parenting seminars. Historically, women were excluded from clinical research. Federal agencies have made tremendous efforts to guarantee that all categories of people are represented and that sex and gender problems are examined.

Learn More

Women in recovery can also look for sober houses, structured group homes, and sober living at Sober House Directory. Anyone interested in learning more about Vanderburgh House and its mission can visit Vanderburgh Communities.


Substance Use in Women Drug Facts. (2020, January 22nd). NiDA. Retrieved August 18, 2021, from