Gender’s Surprising Influence on Addiction

Apr 15, 2020

It’s not a surprise to hear addiction shows up differently in different people, but the role gender plays in addiction is still a relatively new topic. In looking at the science of how gender influences drug and alcohol addiction, there are some revealing statistics which can help us better understand the gender differences regarding substance use issues. Today let’s take a closer look at gender’s surprising influence on addiction in women.

The influences of both biology and gender expectations in society shape the research being done on gender differences between women and men with addictions. As addiction progresses, research reveals women tend to escalate faster to higher frequencies and higher amounts of drug use and alcohol consumption than men do as well as becoming more likely to relapse. A multidisciplinary program with gender-specific care offering co-occurring disorder treatment for both substance use and mental health issues as well as behavioral therapy can offer recovery solutions for women living with any kind of substance use disorder, including alcohol, painkillers, and heroin.

It’s important to mention any research on the subject of gender and addiction is a complicated scientific process. Gender is not simply a biological label. It extends to behaviors that are influenced by a society and its expectations. So, identifying the differences in real-life situations of men and women should be seen as both examining sex differences in the brain and gender influences on a population and the research we’re referring to openly states it is not conclusive and does not factor in the LGBTQ community in its findings.

We’re going to refer to five terms as stages of addiction: Acquisition, Escalation, Maintenance, Withdrawal, and Relapse. In the world of substance use disorders, these seem fairly self-explanatory, with the exception of Acquisition perhaps. The idea here is to look at the differences throughout the progression of an addiction to drugs or alcohol.


This first stage is the initiation of alcohol or drug misuse, before the onset of addiction. According to research, women may experience more pleasurable responses to drugs and alcohol than their male counterparts while also more likely to use them to self-medicate. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to consume alcohol or take drugs as a means of being part of a group. Anyone who has not become dependent on a drug or alcohol remains in the Acquisition stage.


Escalation involves a change in two areas: the frequency of using drugs or alcohol and the amount consumed. For women at risk for developing addiction, the escalation appears more rapid than it does in men. This behavior could look like going out more frequently for social time involving drugs or alcohol or associating more often with friends or acquaintances who actively drink or do drugs.


The third stage of the progression is the point where an addiction can be identified or diagnosed. The routine of substance abuse has been established now. For women, this stabilizing a level of drug use comes at a higher dose than it does in men. Also, the side effects for drug use appear greater for women.

This is the stage where seeking treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction may begin. As the dependence has become a part of daily life, it may be interfering with your ability to maintain relationships and handle responsibilities. If you determine you need the support of a treatment program due to a substance use disorder, you can start by reaching out to your doctor or contact a reputable treatment facility with staff experienced in treating someone with your particular addiction.


In this fourth stage, withdrawal in women appears to create a greater amount of stress than it does in men while men overall show greater symptoms of withdrawal than women do.


This fifth and final stage may offer the most revealing look at the differences between genders regarding addiction and serve as valuable evidence on why a comprehensive treatment program with continuing care element is beneficial for women. The research points to relapse as a bigger problem in women than it is in men. Women appear to be more likely to relapse and their relapses occur more sporadically than relapses among men. Men appear to sustain periods of abstinence longer than women.

For women living with addiction now, the results of research of this kind suggest addressing what causes the quickened escalation in each individual and what can be done to reduce the risk of relapse during the work towards recovery. A program designed specifically for women with a dual diagnosis treatment for both addiction and mental health issues as well as trauma-informed care may provide solutions for creating a more sustainable recovery with valuable support available from peers in the program. Whether you’re someone moving through those stages of addiction now or it’s someone you know and love, there is treatment available now for addictions to alcohol, painkillers, benzos, and more from professionals trained and experienced in working with every type of substance use disorder.


Hannah’s House is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 561.841.1272.

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