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Top Five Causes of Drug Abuse in Women

Jun 10, 2021

Women who’ve been living with a substance use disorder for years may be unaware of how it got started. Even before the first time misusing prescription or illegal drugs, there was something thought in your mind that said it was okay. You may have never spent time connecting your substance use with a starting point. So, today we’re going to spend some time taking a step back to look at some of the common causes of drug abuse in women.

Substance use disorders in women can begin for a wide variety of reasons. It’s common that several factors could contribute to using illegal drugs or misusing prescription medication. You may recognize more than one of the causes as familiar and relatable to your own experience. Some of them include a history of trauma, depression or another mental health disorder, chronic stress, social pressures, and a biological sensitivity to certain drugs. Treatment designed specifically for women with SUDs and/or co-occurring mental health disorders is available.

Using drugs for the first time is usually a voluntary act. Whatever the setting, someone makes a choice to use an illegal drug or misuse a prescription drug. But, it’s helpful to start seeing how these choices can connect to specific earlier or ongoing experiences in life. These are five worth pointing out first. You may recognize one or more of these examples from your own life.

  1. History of trauma: Traumatic experiences, at any age, can continue to affect a woman’s sense of safety and well-being for years or even decades. Unresolved trauma can be a reason a young woman begins using at an early age as a way to cope with feelings of fear. Drug use may become a consistent way to block out painful memories a woman thinks she’s not able to deal with otherwise.
  1. Depression or other mental health disorder: Similar to trauma, mental health disorders can also contribute to a woman’s drug use. She may see it as a “quick solution” to coping with feeling isolated, anxious, or sad. The mental health disorder may be undiagnosed, making her unaware of its presence in her life.
  1. Chronic or acute stress: The inability to manage stress effectively can contribute to a woman’s decision to use drugs. The stress could come from a single event (acute stress) or could be a prolonged experience (chronic stress) where the mind and body are constantly on high alert.
  1. Social pressures/self-esteem: Fitting in may seem like an adolescent issue, but social pressures to do drugs can come at other stages of life, too. Women whose self-esteem is low may begin using drugs if women and men in their social circle are using already. Exposure to drug use at an early age can normalize it for a young woman and dramatically increase her chances of developing a substance use disorder.
  1. Sensitivity to drugs: Research shows women can develop an SUD faster than men and after using smaller amounts. One reason for this difference may be related to sex hormones in women that make them more sensitive to the effects of some drugs than men.

How common is drug abuse in women?

Women may be just as likely as men to develop a substance use disorder. They may use drugs differently and respond to drugs differently, though. One of those unique responses is an extra vulnerability to cravings and relapse. These appear to be biological differences rather than cultural differences to a drug.

Tracking the use of certain drugs offers some evidence about its use in women as a group. For example, marijuana use tends to be lower among women while their use of opioids tends to be higher than men’s. That’s because they are more likely to be prescribed opioids for chronic pain. Also, women using opioids are more likely to visit an emergency room than men. Stimulant use in women is just as likely as it is in men, although women tend to start using stimulants like cocaine at an earlier age. They develop a dependence on a stimulant more quickly and experience a relapse more frequently.

Recovery for Drug Abuse in Women

Women often have a set of motives for misusing drugs in ways that’s unique to their gender. The function of drug use may come from a desire to self-medicate, rather than seeing a doctor or a therapist. A woman may be using drugs as a way to cope with feelings tied to depression, anxiety, or trauma.

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 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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