Breaking news: men and women are different.

OK, so maybe this isn’t so much breaking news as it is old news, but recent developments in the drug and alcohol addiction recovery community point to yet another stark difference among men and women: gender, it seems, is an important determinant in the likelihood of becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol and even in the manner of treatment most effective for each segment.

Physiological and Social Stimuli Influencing Addiction

At our very cores, at microscopic levels, we’re all different, and those minute differences, though unseen and unheard and unfelt, greatly influence the decisions we make and the actions we take. One of the more important “structural” differences between men and women is that women, because of the preponderance of “female” hormones like estrogen and estradiol in their systems, respond to the “rewards” of drugs and alcohol more strongly than men. The effects of these hormones on dopamine receptors in the brain – dopamine being one of many “pleasure” hormones – increase the effects of a high, which, in turn, increases the likelihood that a woman would continue to use drugs and alcohol. Thus, while men are more likely to use and abuse drugs, women, because of their response to them, are more likely to become addicted.

Social stigmas also play an important role in the likelihood of addiction in men and women. Wendy Lynch, associate professor of psychiatric medicine at the University of Virginia, postulates that “since women typically engage in more childcare and family responsibilities than men, this gives them less of an opportunity to use drugs.  In addition, women’s drug use tends to be more stigmatized by society, especially during pregnancy.” So it seems that while women may be susceptible to their biology, men face the very same risks because of societal norms.

Approaching Addiction Treatment in Men and Women

Whatever your gender, it is important to realize that, societal and physiological differences aside, drug and alcohol addiction requires a treatment plan toward effective rehabilitation. Whether man or woman, young or old, we all deserve a second chance at a better life, at a trajectory that moves us away from substance abuse and toward a happier and simpler reality. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please contact a rehab facility immediately. Rest assured that the right course of treatment can help you to achieve honest recovery regardless of the obstacles – microscopic or otherwise – that may stand in your way.