Substance Abuse in Women Statistics

Women and men are affected by drug addiction differently. Learn more about how substance abuse in women statistics varies from statistics for men

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Substance Abuse in Women Statistics

Women and men are both affected by drug addiction in varying ways. While it’s important to note that every individual can be impacted differently by drugs and their side effects, male patients will have more in common with each other than female patients will, and vice versa. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, almost twenty million women (about 15% of women aged eighteen and over) have used illicit substances within the past year.1

How Prevalent is it For Women to Use Substances?

This number shows how prevalent it is for women to use substances, and while not every person who has used substances in the past year may develop an abuse disorder, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a danger of them doing so in the future, or at least experiencing adverse symptoms. It’s very important to know how drugs affect women and what to look out for if you or a loved one want to use or have used illicit substances.

Differences Between Men and Women with Addiction

There are many differences in how women’s bodies and minds react to drugs than MEN’S. There are even differences in the behavior of how each gender consumes drugs. Women tend to take drugs in smaller amounts for less time before they become addicted. Women and addiction often entail more drug cravings and relapses after treatment than it does for men.

Risk Factors

Women’s drug addiction consists of varying risk factors as well. Women are more apt to start using drugs if their partner also uses substances. Women in their twenties and thirties are more apt to abuse alcohol than any other substance, specifically if they have been divorced, separated, or have never been married. Also, women who abuse alcohol are more likely to have organ damage, trauma, or interpersonal issues.2

Relapse Risk

There are varying sources discussing relapse risk for women. Some talk about how women are more prone to relapse, while other sources explore how they’re less likely to relapse. This depends on the individual and the substance used. However, while it’s unknown just how much women relapse as compared to men, it’s interesting to know that women are more likely to relapse if their detox or treatment program is male-oriented. 3

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse in Women

Some signs and symptoms of substance abuse in women are the same as those of men, including genetics, trauma, environmental stressors, and co-occurring mental health conditions. However, some signs of substance abuse that are more specific to or prevalent in women will be detailed below.


Women use substances to self-medicate for mental or physical health conditions more often than men do.

Anxiety or Depression

Addiction in women often shows more symptoms of anxiety and depression due to how substances affect overall brain chemistry.

Changes in Menstrual Cycle

Since men – at least, those assigned male at birth – don’t experience menstrual cycles, this sign of substance abuse is specific to women. Changes in the menstrual cycle can look like skipping periods, varying flows, and different symptoms during the period, such as increased cramping.

Impaired Coordination

Women’s drug addiction will often cause more overall impaired coordination than men.

Mood Swings

Due to how substances can affect hormones and other aspects of the body, women tend to experience stronger and more frequent mood swings than men. .

Changes in Energy Levels

This goes together with hormonal and behavioral issues, and women will often experience a greater flux in energy levels if they have a substance abuse disorder.

Does Alcohol Affect Women Differently Than Men?

While alcohol abuse disorder still disproportionately affects men more than it does women, that gap has closed somewhat over the decades. Women will often experience different side effects and treatment responses than men.

As stated above, women are more prone to relapse if their treatment programs are male-oriented. Also, women often become addicted to alcohol over a much shorter period than men do, which is known as telescoping. This is thought to be because women’s bodies have a lower percentage of overall water, along with a slower rate of alcohol metabolism.4

Complications That Women Can Suffer as a Result of Alcohol Abuse

Other complications that women can suffer because of alcohol abuse include:
  • Liver disease
  • Cardiac-related conditions, like heart attacks
  • Reproductive consequences 
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Cognitive and other neurological effects 
  • Breast and other cancers
  • Hepatitis C
Many of these complications will affect men who have alcohol use disorder as well, just with varying amounts of severity.

How Treatment Differs for Women

Just as how drugs affect women differently than they do men, it also makes sense that treatment options would vary as well. Women and addiction also show that withdrawal symptoms tend to be more intense for women, meaning that it’s even more important that women undergo the detox process at a medical facility under supervision. Otherwise, more intense substance abuse and health issues could ensue.

Women-Oriented Treatment Opportunities and Considerations

Women on drugs tend to find it harder to get assistance first, since they’re often more culturally expected to shoulder the burden of most of the housework and childcare. Some substance abuse treatment programs factor this into their programs and offer childcare help.

Other drug addiction treatment centers offer trauma-informed care for women who may have undergone domestic violence, sexual assault, or any other sort of harmful experience. These women’s issues in substance abuse recovery are vital for those looking for treatment options.

Get Treatment for Substance Abuse at Soledad House

If you or a loved one needs help with substance abuse, contact us today at Soledad House. Our team will work with you to foster a positive recovery environment that will ensure you receive the treatment and support you need during the recovery process. We offer women-centered treatment plans curated specifically to your needs and expectations.

Get in touch with us today if you’re ready to start treatment and begin the road to recovery from substance abuse.