Addiction in Women | The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse

Addiction in Women

Addiction in Women  

Despite using substances at lower levels than men, women typically progress from substance use to addiction more quickly than their male counterparts. Women also experience the health consequences of substance use, such as death, cancer, heart disease and memory problems, sooner and more intensely than men.    

Addiction in Women

Women and Smoking

When it comes to tobacco, women typically smoke fewer cigarettes, inhale less deeply and smoke cigarettes with lower nicotine levels as compared to men. However, women are just as likely as men to become addicted to nicotine. These gender differences can be seen at an early age—in one study, girls ages 12 and 13 who started smoking at least once a month reported symptoms of nicotine dependence in a shorter amount of time compared to boys (21 days vs. 183 days).

Women and Alcohol

Research shows that women metabolize alcohol less efficiently as compared to men. This is because women have decreased activity of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which breaks down alcohol in the liver and stomach and keeps it from entering the bloodstream. Women’s bodies also contain less water and more fatty tissue than men of similar sizes, which means they maintain higher concentrations of alcohol in their blood. As a result, women get intoxicated faster and have worse hangovers, even when drinking the same amount as men.

Some research suggests that women progress faster than men from alcohol use to addiction. But other studies argue this is found primarily in studies of people who already have been diagnosed with addiction and may be in treatment for it. New findings also suggest that this difference between women and men is less apparent in recent years than in the past because of increasing rates of risky drinking among women and stable or diminishing rates among men.

Women and Other Drugs

Women become dependent on marijuana, heroin, cocaine and certain psychoactive prescription drugs more quickly than men.

 

References

Foster SE, Richter L. Substance use disorders. In RT Senie (ed.), Epidemiology of women’s health. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2013: 249-256; Kay A, Taylor TE, Barthwell AG, Wichelecki J, Leopold V. Substance use and women's health. J Addict Dis. 2010;29(2):139-63.

Perkins KA. Sex differences in nicotine versus non-nicotine reinforcement as determinants of tobacco smoking. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 1996;4:166-177.

DiFranza JR, Savageau JA, Rigotti NAFK, Ockene JK, McNeill AD, Coleman M, Wood, C. Development of symptoms of tobacco dependence in youths: 30 month follow up data from the DANDY study. Tob Control. 2002;11:228-235.

Hill SY, Smith TR. Evidence for genetic mediation of alcoholism in women. J Subst Abuse. 1991;3:159-17; Mumenthaler, MS, Taylor, JL, O'Hara, R, Yesavage, JA. Gender differences in moderate drinking effects. Alcohol Health Res World. 1999;23:55-64.

Lewis B, Nixon SJ. Characterizing gender differences in treatment seekers. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2014;38(1):275-84; Keyes KM, Martins SS, Blanco C, Hasin DS. Telescoping and gender differences in alcohol dependence: new evidence from two national surveys. Am J Psychiatry. 2010;167(8):969-76; Schuckit MA, Daeppen JB, Tipp JE, Hesselbrock M, Bucholz KK. The clinical course of alcohol-related problems in alcohol dependent and nonalcohol dependent drinking women and men. J Stud Alcohol. 1998;59(5):581-90.

Khan SS, Secades-Villa R, Okuda M, Wang S, Pérez-Fuentes G, Kerridge BT, Blanco C. Gender differences in cannabis use disorders: results from the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2013;130(1-3):101-8; National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIDA research report: prescription drugs: abuse and addiction. (NIH Pub. No. 05-4881). Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse; 2001; Hanson GR. In drug abuse, gender matters. NIDA Notes. 2002:17.

 

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