Comparing Substance Abuse In Women and Men

Substance abuse hits all genders, races and age brackets, but closely analyzing the rates of abuse in various populations can provide key insights into those most at risk of addiction. One area of note is the difference between the drug habits of men and women.

Rates of Overall Substance Abuse by Gender

A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) revealed that men report abuse of any substance about twice as often as women do. A close look at the age breakdown reveals that substance abuse is more evenly distributed throughout men’s lives, starting earlier and ending later than women, while female substance abuse is disproportionately concentrated between the ages of 18 and 34. This suggests that men are more likely to have long-standing addiction issues.

Rates of Alcohol Abuse by Gender

Men more commonly abuse alcohol than any other substance, and substance-abusing men are more likely to abuse alcohol than substance-abusing women.

  • 33.3 percent of women in treatment had abused alcohol
  • 43.2 percent of men in treatment had abused alcohol

The perception of drinking as a masculine recreational activity no doubt contributes to the elevated levels of alcoholism in men compared to women.

Rates of Marijuana Abuse by Gender

Marijuana abuse is also a larger proportionate problem among male drug abusers than women.

  • 19.9 percent of men in treatment had abused marijuana
  • 14.6 percent of women in treatment had abused marijuana

Like alcohol, smoking marijuana is heavily ingrained into masculine culture in America.

Rates of Prescription Drugs Abuse by Gender

In contrast to alcohol and marijuana, women were proportionately more likely to abuse prescription drugs than men.

  • 7.8 percent of men in treatment had abused prescription drugs
  • 13.8 percent of women in treatment had abused prescription drugs

The perception that prescription drugs are safer than illegal narcotics because they are prescribed by doctors and provided by pharmacists may contribute to their abuse in women. They may also be used more frequently in an attempt to self-medicate issues related to mental illness.

Comparison of Gender Drug Abuse Habits

The SAMHSA study revealed a number of other notable distinctions between the drug habits of men and women:

  • Men tend to abuse drugs in higher quantities and more frequently than women
  • Men are more likely to abuse alcohol
  • Men are more likely to binge drink
  • Women have a tenancy to become addicted more quickly to stimulants
  • Women suffer from more health problems as a result of the drug abuse
  • Women have a higher rate of relapse after finishing treatment

Understanding the common relationships people of each gender have with drugs provides a more complete view of the problem at large. However, no matter what gender the abusers are or what drugs they abuse, the solution to addiction is always the same: getting treatment.