Although both men and women may become addicted to substances such as alcohol, marijuana, nicotine and street drugs, there are gender differences. These differences include the risk of addiction, the type of substance used, the response to treatment and the likelihood of relapse. In addition, men and women often react differently to the same substance from a physiological standpoint.
Men often have more opportunity to use drugs than women, although both are equally likely to become addicted. Men are more likely to abuse alcohol and marijuana than sedatives and anti-anxiety or sleeping medications. Among adults, men are two to three times more likely than women to develop a drug use or dependence problem. However, this may be partly because men have more socially acceptable opportunities to obtain drugs.
Access to Treatment
Compared to women, men are less likely to face multiple barriers in access to treatment. They are also more likely to seek treatment than women. Men typically seek treatment in specialized treatment programs, while women are more likely to seek help in primary care settings or mental health venues.
Alcohol is the top reason for men to be admitted to substance abuse programs, followed by heroin and marijuana. Men are also likely to enter treatment programs through the criminal justice system. Men have a higher risk of relapse after drug addiction treatment than women do when not in a specialized treatment program.
Socialization may affect whether men use drugs and whether or not they seek treatment. Risk-taking behavior is more common among men, especially in adolescence and young adulthood, which may increase the risk of experimentation with drugs and alcohol, setting the stage for future addiction. However, men are also often taught to downplay or hide emotion and to solve their own problems rather than asking for help. A man may not seek treatment until the addiction has progressed, often after many years, which makes treatment and recovery more difficult.
Men and women are physiologically different and even in societies that are gender-equal, tend to be socialized differently. The hormonal differences in the two sexes can affect how drugs are metabolized and in some cases may confer protective effects. For example, men’s hearts seem to be less sensitive to the effects of cocaine, but they are more likely to demonstrate blood flow abnormalities in the frontal lobes of the brain after repeated cocaine use. Men’s larger average size and generally higher metabolic rates can affect the dose necessary to cause sedation or the rate at which a drug is excreted from the body.