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A Look at Gender Differences in Drug and Alcohol Abuse

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Medically reviewed: 09/10/2018
Last updated: 05/13/2019
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Alcohol addiction can affect anyone and doesn’t discriminate by gender. But if you’re a woman, you may be at higher risk due to certain genetic factors. For instance, women have a lower body-water percentage than men because they have more fat tissue — meaning the same amount of alcohol becomes more concentrated in the blood. Women tend to become intoxicated much more quickly than men, even when drinking the same amounts. Any woman who drinks beyond moderate levels of alcohol can face health risks including heart disease, liver damage, breast cancer, and pregnancy-related problems. If you are struggling, find an alcohol addiction treatment program today.

Fatal Diseases Linked to Heavy Alcohol Use

Women are found to be at an increased risk for many serious alcohol-related diseases. Factors such as body weight, body-fat percentage, and body-water percentage make women more vulnerable to alcohol-related diseases than men.

Liver Damage – women are more likely to have:

  • Fatty livers, a buildup of fat around the liver that indicates alcohol overuse and poor liver function
  • Hepatitis, an inflammation, and swelling of the liver that lowers liver function and inhibits the liver’s ability to process alcohol
  • Cirrhosis of the liver, a disease where the liver becomes hardened in places to reduce liver function and prevent toxin removal, and that often results in the need for a transplant or death

Heart Disease – women are more likely to have:

  • High blood pressure due to alcohol abuse
  • Decreased heart function
  • Heart valve swelling

Brain Disorders

Cancers – women are more likely to develop:

  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Cancer of the head and neck
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Mouth cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Liver cancer

Health Conditions Caused by Heavy Alcohol Use

Women who abuse alcohol are also at higher risk for some health conditions that aren’t always traditionally linked to alcohol use. These conditions can affect any woman who doesn’t drink alcohol, but alcohol abuse greatly increases the risk.

  • Osteoporosis– a thinning of the bones and bone loss
  • Infertility– the inability to have children
  • Miscarriage– consuming alcohol at any time during pregnancy increases the risk for miscarriage
  • Mood disorders– alcohol upsets the brain’s production of certain neurotransmitters that play a role in mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder
  • Physical abuse– women who abuse alcohol are more likely to enter and stay in abusive relationships
  • Sexual violence– women who drink are at higher risk for sexual violence, victimization, prostitution, and human trafficking

Decreased Access to Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Women who suffer from alcohol abuse and addiction are often less likely to seek and receive professional treatment on behalf of factors such as lack of childcare, responsibilities at home, and the inability to pay for alcohol addiction treatment.

Social stigma also plays a huge role in which gender is more likely to seek alcohol addiction treatment. Many women are mothers and typically assume the role of caregivers. Women with these roles often fear that stigma will stand in the way of their getting professional help as needed. In some instances, women can be prosecuted or lose custody of their children if found to have a problem with alcohol and drug addiction. But getting help for addiction can improve the outcome for everyone, including their children.

A Closer Look at Gender Differences in Alcohol and Drug Abuse

There is no denying the fact there are many social, medical, and physical differences in the way men and women handle drugs and alcohol. The risk factors, the prevalence of drug use, consequences, and barriers to obtaining drugs are all different when viewing the comparisons between women and men.

Women are more likely to use drugs and alcohol if their significant others also use these substances. Drug use can serve as a bonding experience between couples who use. In some instances, men introduce their women to drug use. This is not to place blame on men for getting their women addicted to drugs, but remains a common occurrence that should be taken into consideration when evaluating how certain risk factors contribute to drug use.

Compared to women, men are more likely to use illicit drugs and misuse prescription drugs, and suffer higher rates of alcohol and drug dependence than women. Compared to men, women are more likely to use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate for conditions such as pain, weight gain, exhaustion, and mental health problems.

The gap between gender differences as it pertains to alcohol and drug abuse is narrowing as society changes. From a sociological standpoint, there are now far fewer differences between gender roles and the social acceptance of drug use and abuse. However, the differences in genetic makeup between men and women remain the same — meaning women will continue to be at higher risk for alcohol abuse and addiction than men.