While men historically have been more likely to develop a substance use disorder, women also suffer in great numbers.
In recent years, the once large gap between the rates of overdose deaths for men, as compared to women, has been steadily closing. It is expected that the rates of overdose among women will continue to increase in the next couple of years.
48,000 women died from prescription pain reliever overdose from 1999 to 2010. However, in just a 5-year span from 2010 to 2015, over 50,000 women died from a drug overdose (excluding alcohol related deaths and causes).
Research has shown that women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription pain relievers by their doctors, be prescribed higher doses of pain relievers by their doctors, and use them for longer periods of time than men.
Women with substance use disorder are more likely than men to face multiple barriers in accessing treatment, and are less likely than men to seek treatment. Women also are more likely to seek treatment in mental health or primary care settings rather than in specialized addiction treatment programs.
Substance use disorder in women progresses at a faster rate than men, and are more susceptible to craving and relapse.
Physiological differences accelerate the progression of addiction, as women metabolize alcohol and drugs differently.
Fewer stomach enzymes and more fatty tissue slow down the processing of alcohol and other drugs, causing the body to be exposed to higher concentrations of the substance longer.
Women have often experienced greater levels of stigmatization around substance use as a result of their traditional societal roles as gatekeepers, mothers, caregivers, and often the central organizing factor in their family units.
With the integration of women into the mainstream workforce in most middle and high-income countries women have also begun consuming alcohol at intensities and frequencies that are quickly catching up to that of their male counterparts.
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