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Men and women are inherently different, and this often means that they fall victim to and are affected differently by addiction as well. With this in mind, it only makes sense to consider gender specific treatment for addiction. Though of course research is still ongoing as to why men and women are affected differently by addiction, here is a look at how addiction affects women differently, which in turn affects how we approach gender specific treatment for women.

Physiological Differences

Physiologically, women tend to be at a greater risk than men for developing a dependence on alcohol and other drugs—and this is simply due to physical makeup. When a man and a woman both consume alcohol, for example, the woman’s body will break down alcohol more slowly than the man’s, giving her a higher BAC after consuming the same number of drinks. Some studies have found that estrogen seems to play a role in how women react to drug and alcohol use as well. Estrogen can increase the amount of dopamine that is released when a drug like cocaine is used, making the woman more susceptible to developing a dependence on that drug. This could also explain why women are more susceptible to relapse after receiving treatment for addiction. One thing to keep in mind here is that despite the physiological differences between men and women at play here, men regularly seem to exhibit higher rates of use and dependence; this is likely due to how men tend to see more opportunities to use starting at a young age.

Psychological Differences

Women seem to exhibit higher rates of certain mental disorders—particularly mood, anxiety, and eating disorders. They also seem to see higher rates of PTSD due to high rates of physical violence, sexual violence, and domestic abuse. A mental disorder can be a trigger for addiction, as some turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate their mental disorders. Alternatively, symptoms of a mental disorder can heighten when someone becomes dependent on a particular drug.

There also seems to be a greater stigma attached to addiction in women, and this can cause women to withdraw from social contact rather than seeking help. This stigma can also heighten stress and lower self esteem, further complicating the problem of addiction.

Social Differences

Women also tend to have different socio-familial experiences surrounding addiction. Women, for example, more frequently exhibit a history of physical or sexual abuse and domestic violence. Additionally for women, relationships often play a central role in the onset of addiction, with a family member or significant other having introduced the addictive substance in the first place. This means that treating addiction in women often involves addressing harmful relationships.