The Role of Gender in Substance Abuse

Transformations by the Gulf Florida Drug Rehab and Substance Abuse Wellness Center is one of the only centers on the Gulf Coast of South Florida offering drug treatment and substance abuse counseling on a gender-specific basis. With men’s-only and women’s-only treatment programs available, our local Florida drug treatment professionals ensure that individuals are assisted based on gender needs as well as suited with individual, personalized programs for lasting substance abuse recovery.

Gender Can Affect Addiction

“Gender” is a word which refers to the roles, activities and behaviors which society has considered appropriate for men and women, however it refers more to the biological sex of an person, either female or male. Substance abuse problems readily occur in both men and women, no matter their age, race, location or personal preferences. Gender has, however been found to be a crucial factor which has the ability to influence both substance addiction and the addiction treatment. One’s vulnerability to drug or alcohol addiction can differ with biases toward male or female individuals. There have been several research studies carried out on the biological and psychological affects of addiction types and hormonal factors.

Gender Plays an Important Role in Individual Treatment

There is no single magic solution which is suitable for all people with addictive tendencies. Because men and women suffer from alcoholism or substance abuse problems for varying reasons, many different types of treatment are available. Some people respond best to treatment which is focused on personal skill development in a group therapy setting, whereas others may need the added support of prescribed and monitored medical therapy.

Acceptance of the problem at hand is the first key factor for both men and women seeking treatment. Traditionally in North America, drug and alcohol problems are considered more commonplace and socially acceptable for men versus women. Men are more likely to be in a treatment program than women, with census studies suggesting that women make up only a third of individuals in North American treatment centers for alcoholism, and only one quarter of the population in treatment for drug abuse. Studies have also shown that men are more likely to seek treatment on their own or with the support of their family and friends, yet women often get referred by a professional for treatment in relation to other medical or psychological problems. These referrals may include court orders or as a routine in professional counseling for other emotional or mental health issues.

Women in treatment have reported to face stressful lifestyles such as child care and family responsibilities, the inability to self-pay for treatment, emotional or physical trauma, and other psychological problems as a preface to self-medicating. Many women will use alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with emotional abuse, physical assaults or other trauma. Some women have reported apprehension in receiving formal drug treatment assistance because they fear they may face losing custody of their children which creates a major barrier in beginning a treatment plan. There is also evidence to suggest that women are discouraged from entering treatment by friends and family who fear the family stress of a mother or wife being absent from the family for an extended period of time.

On the opposite spectrum, men are more likely than women to be in a treatment program for alcohol or substance abuse issues, with over 60 percent of those in treatment being males. Men have been found to more readily accept and enter treatment programs at the suggestion of friends and family. There have, however been indications that serious health issues which are a direct result of drug or alcohol misuse does not increase the likelihood of men entering a formal treatment program. Men will often hesitate to enter treatment because it is perceived as a major ego-blow, an a very humbling experience to admit they have a problem. They often feel like by admitting to a substance abuse issue, that they will be letting down friends or family, when in fact, friends and family are normally extremely supportive of a man’s decision to enter treatment.

About Gender and Drug Abuse

Just like alcohol abuse, substance abuse can occur in both men and women regardless of age, ethnic background, or personal preferences. Drug abuse is the use of illicit or prescription medication in excessive, harmful or dangerous ways. Illicit drugs include heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and psychoactive drugs such as LSD and ecstasy. Prescription drug abuse is the use of prescription medication in excess, or in a manner which has not been prescribed. Many commonly abused prescription medications include Vicodin, Dexedrine, Ritalin, Xanax, Valium, Prozac, Lomotil and Ephedrine.

Publications show that The World Health Organization estimates that 155 – 250 million people (approximately 3-5 per cent of the population) aged 15-64 used illicit substances in the prior year to the study. Of these, between 16 and 38 million people were considered problem drug users. Problem drug users are considered as those who regularly use and abuse drugs with social and health complications as a result. Cannabis, amphetamines and opiates are some of the most popular drugs abused in North America.

The National institute on Drug Abuse has revealed research results suggesting that men are more likely to abuse illicit and prescription drugs than women. However, this gender gap is only apparent prior to the very first use of a drug and the gap is closed once the opportunity to take drugs has been opened up. Once the opportunity is available though, males and females are equally as likely to use drugs.

In similar research studies, women and men have been found to have different biological and behavioral responses to drugs, which means that they may actually metabolize drugs differently, which is a physical similarity to alcohol metabolization. Studies have also revealed that prescription drug abuse by men may be related to social and behavioral issues, whereas for women it could be for reasons of psychological issues. Behavioral problems are more prevalent in women who abuse drugs, but research has suggested that men develop depression issues and aggressive behaviors due to drug abuse.

About Gender and Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a disease which can affect both men and women, and yet it can affect each very differently. It has been estimated by The World Health Organization that: In the more developed countries, one out of every five men and one out of every twelve women develop alcohol dependency during their lifetime. This gender difference has been found to be the case all over the world and is one of only a few key gender differences in social behavior.

There are varied hypotheses for this gap in alcoholism ratios between genders. One physiological reason could be that women metabolize alcohol in a different way than men where they will feel the effects earlier and to a much greater extent. Thus, women tend to feel the acute and unpleasant effects of alcohol more than men and also suffer more with the negative behavioral risk factors.

In women specifically, alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of breast and other cancers. Research has shown that women are more susceptible to organ damage from alcohol consumed at lower levels of over a shorter period of time than men. This means that they also are also more at risk of chronic conditions and social issues related to alcoholism.

Men are twice as likely as women to suffer from alcoholism. Men are often heavier drinkers for longer periods of time, and suffer from long-term health issues such as brain and liver disease, cognitive problems and chronic recurring depression. Additionally, excessive alcohol consumption has been found to be a factor in sexual dysfunction in men which includes difficulty in physical arousal and maintaining an erection, infertility, as well as an increase in frustration leading to sexual aggression.


In conclusion, though not always the case, it can be summed up as “women think, and men act” when it comes to the decision to abuse or self-medicate with drugs or alcohol – but no matter the gender, there are many personalized, specific programs designed to help individuals with the issues at hand.

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