Gender and Addiction

Gender and Addiction Header
Addiction is “a chronic brain disease that causes compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences.”[1] If you are concerned that addiction may be plaguing the life of a loved one or are worried for yourself, these are the signs of abuse and addiction you should be looking for:[2]

  • Avoidance of responsibilities pertaining to one’s career, home life or schoolwork
  • An increase in risky behavior while under the influence of a substance or engaging in unsafe drug use methods
  • Legal problems that have stemmed from drug use
  • Family members, a significant other, superiors, coworkers or friends are complaining about the user’s drug use and its effects
  • Tolerance to the substance, causing the user to take more of the drug to achieve the desired effect
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug
  • Lack of control over how much or how often they use drugs
  • Preoccupation with the thought of their habit and making sure they have an adequate supply at all times
  • Lack of engagement in activities they used to fill their time with and instead choosing to spend their time doing drugs or drinking
  • Continued use even though the user is aware of how their habit is affecting their life in negative ways

Male vs. Female

As of 2013, there were roughly 7.125 billion people on the planet, and the gender divide was 50.4 percent males and the other 49.6 percent females.[3] Gender plays a role in every life from the moment we’re born. Gender roles, and likewise expectations, are placed upon the shoulders of mere infants in waiting for baby boys to grow up playing with trucks and little girls to don pink tutus. In the formative childhood years, it is often expected that boys will wrestle around with one another and play rough while girls stick to tea parties and playing with baby dolls in preparation for their own motherhood roles someday.

During adolescence, however, something changes. Perhaps it’s due to hormones, peer pressure, or just a greater likelihood of influence from outside the family home as the child grows older, but children start to take risks and sometimes those risks involve experimentation with drugs. Studies have proven time and again that adolescent boys are more likely to engage in risky behavior than their female counterparts.[4] It might be a stretch to say males are more likely to engage in substance abuse than females based solely on this knowledge, but the fact of the matter is that boys do experiment with drugs at a younger age more often than females do. In fact, a 1999 survey proved this with 8.1 percent of males over the age of 12 having used an illicit substances within the month preceding the survey, compared to only 4.5 percent of females of the same age demographic.[5] In one study, alcohol use was more common in adolescent males, with 17 percent of young men in one study having tried alcohol by the time they were 13 years old compared to only 12 percent of females in the same age group. [6]

Adolescence Stats bargraph

Likewise, the consequences are greater for males. Each year, over 100 lives are lost due to drug use or abuse in the United States.[7] Around the world, 2.5 million deaths occur every year due to alcohol,[8] and men are more likely than women to die from an alcohol-related death.[9] When it comes to criminal behavior, female incarceration rates are increasing at a higher rate than male incarceration rates are, but males are still nearly 14 times more likely to be incarcerated than females.[10]


One of the reasons that men may consume more drugs than females is a perception of their safety. One set of data points out that while only 15 percent of women thought marijuana was safe to smoke, 27 percent of men did.[11] Additionally, five percent of men thought of cocaine and Ecstasy as safe compared to only one percent of women.[12]

Abstainers of Alcohol

It isn’t surprising that since men are more likely to try drugs and alcohol, or even use them regularly, they are also more likely to become addicted to substances.[13] However, females have been shown to jump from drug use to dependency faster and develop health consequences more quickly than males do on average.[14] In recent years, prescription drug abuse has soared among both genders, but more so among females of middle age. As of 2010, 40 percent of United States drug-related overdose fatalities were females, with the majority being in the middle age demographic and having taken opioid pain medications.[15] Males are more likely to use cannabis, at 9.3 percent with only 4.9 percent of females doing the same, per 2011.[16] Also, 2.6 percent of males were found to have misused prescription drugs, compared to 2.2 percent of females, and males accounted for more use of hallucinogens and cocaine than females too.[17]

In one study, 63 percent of men had consumed alcohol in the 30 days preceding being surveyed.[18] Additionally, they were at a twofold increased rate of binge drinking compared to females.[19] Among America’s citizens, around 22 percent of women are lifelong abstainers of alcohol, whereas only half that many men are (11 percent).[20]

While men comprised 80 percent of Jerusalem’s addictions in 2009, females who face addiction may have a harder time treating it, because their addiction troubles tend to be more deeply seated and severe.[21] That being said, although females are less likely to seek treatment — which may account for the 18,158 males being treated there in 2009 for gambling, drugs and alcohol versus a mere 4,744 females — once women begin treatment, they generally have better rates of recovery than males do.[22] However, relapse was shown to be more common among females than males.[23] Some studies challenge this, such as one that shows a reported 32 percent relapse rate among men versus only 22 percent among women.[24]

Health and Side Effects

Females Mental Health stat

Mental health may also play a significant role in the development of addiction. Roughly one in every four females is prescribed some variation of a mental health treatment drug, whereas only 15 percent of males are.[25] It is possible that males are less likely to seek help for mental health conditions; therefore, they go untreated more often than females and thus, self-medicate more, but data on this isn’t strong enough to fully support the extended theory. Regardless, more prescriptions among the female population could account for the inclination toward the abuse of prescribed meds, which data does back up. Women experience more side effects from drugs also.

Perhaps the most obvious consequence of drug abuse for many females is unintended pregnancy. Drug and alcohol abuse is often responsible for the poor decision among users to engage in unprotected sex. Sexually transmitted diseases are a concern associated with unprotected sex as well, especially when the risk of disease is elevated among the drug abuse community. Likewise, the risk of infectious disease via intravenous drug practices is also a worry in the drug-using population, namely for HIV among injection drug users. Spanning both genders, injection drug users among heterosexual individuals appears to be fairly steady and similar between both females and males.[26]


[1]Addiction.” (n.d.). American Psychiatric Association. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[2]Drug Addiction & Abuse.” (n.d.). Help Guide. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[3]Real Time World Statistics.” (2013). Worldometers. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[4]Young Men and Young Women.” (2009 July). Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[5] Zickler, P. (2000 September). “Gender Differences in Prevalence of Drug Abuse Traced to Opportunities to Use.National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[6]Young Men and Young Women.” (2009 July). Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[7]Prescription Drug Overdose.” (n.d.). National Conference of State Legislatures. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[8]2.5 Million Alcohol-Related Deaths Worldwide – Annually.” (n.d.). National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[9]Fact Sheets – Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men’s Health.” (n.d.). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[10] Sipes Jr., L.A. (2012 February). “Statistics on Women Accessed September 10, 2014.

[11] Merz, T. (2014 July 31). “Why do men take more drugs than women?The Telegraph. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[12] Ibid.

[13]Addiction in women.” (2010 January). Harvard Health Publications. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Stobbe, M. (2013 July 2). “Drug Overdose Deaths Spike Among Middle-Aged Women.Associated Press. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[16]Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings.” (2011). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[17] Ibid.

[18]Fact Sheets – Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men’s Health.” (n.d.). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Christensen, J. & Wilson, J. (2014 January 22). “Is marijuana as safe as – or safer than – alcohol?CNN News. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[21] Eglash, R. (2011 February 15). “Men more likely to become addicts than women.The Jerusalem Post. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[22] Ibid.

[23]Addiction in women.” (2010 January). Harvard Health Publications. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[24] Stocker, S. (1998 November). “Men and Women in Drug Abuse Treatment Relapse at Different Rates and for Different Reasons.National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[25] Bindley, K. (2011 November 16). “Women And Prescription Drugs: One In Four Takes Mental Health Meds.Huffington Post. Accessed September 10, 2014.

[26] Mathias, R. (2002 May). “High-Risk Sex Is Main Factor in HIV Infection for Men and Women Who Inject Drugs.National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed September 10, 2014.


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