While it was once true that men got addicted more often than women, that gender gap has been closing in recent years. Women are now the fastest-growing segment of substance abusers in this country. Of the estimated 4.5 million women with a substance use disorder, 77 percent misuse prescription drugs, and 68 percent are regular users of illegal drugs. At the heart of this problem is this nation’s opioid epidemic.
Women and Opioid Addiction
Opioid addiction is one of this country’s most pressing health crises, and it does not discriminate based on gender. While more men than women die of drug overdoses related to opioids, the rates of opioid drug overdose deaths among women are skyrocketing. The CDC reports that more than 71,800 women in this country have died from prescription opioid overdoses since 1999. Between 1999 and 2010, the overdose fatality rate among women grew 400 percent compared to 237 percent for men.
Why Women Are More at Risk
Not only are women more likely than men to experience chronic pain, which can facilitate a prescription for opioids, but they also tend to use opioids differently than men. Women are more likely to take opioids for longer periods and at higher doses, which can cause dependence quickly. Women also have higher risk factors for addiction that include such things as depression and other psychological issues. Now that opioid prescriptions are being limited by various state and local programs, many women who have become addicted to prescription pain medications have turned to heroin as a substitute.
Barriers to Opioid Addiction Treatment for Women
In the past, women have faced both stigma and difficulty accessing appropriate and effective addiction treatment services. A 2011 study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse revealed that women being treated for opioid addiction were suffering from more medical issues than men. Women may delay seeking treatment due to family obligations or issues related to co-occurring disorders. Fortunately, there is now more support than ever available for women who want to get help for a substance use disorder.
Addiction Treatment Options for Women
Even if families and those suffering from addiction understand the disease, it is difficult to know where to turn for help. The good news is that not only is qualified addiction treatment available, but women who do receive substance abuse treatment tend to fare well long-term and relapse less than their male counterparts.