Gender Differences and Substance Abuse

Gender Differences and Substance Abuse

As with many other things, there are actually gender differences when it comes to substance abuse, particularly with regards to alcohol. For instance, it’s typically observed that men can tolerate more glasses of alcohol in one sitting on average before getting drunk compared to women. For the past quarter of a century, female and male substance abusers have been studied and some significant differences have been noted between the two sexes.

Men and women are clearly not the same in many drug and alcohol addiction metrics. This makes sense since there’s also a significant gap between the two sexes in terms of athletic physicality, so it’s not a stretch of the imagination to suppose that the physiology of women is different than men when it comes to, say, alcohol tolerance or addiction rates across the board.

This article of course will not cover topics like substance abuse comparisons among those suffering from gender dysphoria, transgenders versus cisgenders, or the concept of additional genders beyond the gender binary due to lack of addiction rate research for these new paradigms.

Males versus Females When It Comes to Drug Abuse

According to research, women have unique obstacles to effective rehab (i.e., being prescribed treatments that haven’t been tested on women or not being able to find childcare), respond to drugs differently due to their unique genetics, and use drugs differently as well.

Let’s delve deeper when it comes to the differences and similarities when it comes to men and women in terms of drug or alcohol abuse that leads to dependence or addiction. How do men deal with their addiction compared to women and vice-versa? Which sex is more likely to get addicted to substances in general and specific drugs in particular?

  • Rate of Abuse and Prevalence of Addiction: Even though the rate of substance abuse and drug dependence is higher among men than women, the prevalence rates aren’t gender-specific or sex-specific. This is especially true in the most recent data, such that there’s equality or at least gender blindness when it comes to how prevalent substance abuse is. The rate of abuse refers to how many new addicts are emerging in a period of time while prevalence refers to the number of individuals both old and new are addicted overall.
  • Drug Use Between Men and Women Age Groups: On one hand, for most age groups, men have higher use and dependence rates on alcohol and illicit drugs compared to women. On the other hand, women are as likely as men to develop addiction across all ages. Additionally, women show susceptibility to craving and relapse once they’re addicted. These two, by the way, serve as the key phases or processes of the addiction cycle. Women need to be careful when it comes to aftercare after rehab to watch out for relapse.
  • Men Are More Used to Using Drugs Than Women: Not only is there a higher rate of substance abuse in men than women. Men are also likelier to use nearly all types of illicit drugs because men are more of the risk takers between the two biological sexes. This can result in the adverse effect of men being likelier to end up in the emergency room for overdose treatment or outright deaths due to illicit drug use. These illegal drugs include misused prescription drugs, marijuana, cocaine, meth, heroin, and so forth.
  • Men Start Using Drugs Early and Women Start Late: Compared to men on average, women on average typically begin using drugs like marijuana and cocaine or substances like alcohol later than men, who through society standards and peer pressure push them to act manly and come of age by doing adult stuff like drink alcohol or smoke weed/tobacco. The exception to this is meth. Men are also genetically predisposed towards risk-taking, which makes them likelier to delve into the risky and unknown like smoking or drinking.
  • Women Who Use Drugs Are Usually Influenced by Men: Drug use might be a man thing indeed in light of studies. To be more specific, women who start using drugs later in life are usually influenced by boyfriends or spouses to start using. Women also enter rehab earlier than men once addicted as well as report different reasons than men for maintaining their habit or use of drugs. There are fewer women who start using drugs on their own or by the influence of their fellow girlfriends by peer pressure.
  • Women Have a Higher Prevalence of Psychiatric Disorders: The reasons why women end up indulging in substance abuse might also have to do with genetics and disorders on top of environment or the influence of the men in their lives. Because comorbid psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression are more prevalent among women than men, these sicknesses typically predate, correlate, or cause the onset of their substance abuse. Thus, the importance of dual diagnosis in rehab centers like Lanna Rehab is made all the more apparent.
  • Self-Medication of Mood Disturbances: Although the abuse rates of women are more strongly linked to male spousal or partner influence, these females might end up staying addicted for the sake of self-medication. For example, women might use alcohol in order to self-medicate mood disturbances and mental issues such as PTSD or past trauma. Meanwhile, this isn’t necessarily the case for men and they might instead indulge in drugs and alcohol purely on sociological or environmental influence.
  • Comorbid Disorders and Dual Diagnosis: For many women on average, their comorbid disorders or preexisting conditions might complicate the treatment of their drug addiction, which may in fact be just another symptom for their underlying disease. However, dual diagnosis can help unpack such complications and all the same, women are also responsive to treatment and do well in terms of follow-up care in order to prevent relapse. In short, women typically use drugs for non-prescribed medication of their highly prevalent psychiatric disorders.
  • Treatment Implications Among Genders: Gender similarities and differences have a significant impact on the implications of treatment. For example, there’s a telescoping phenomenon when it comes to drug treatment. There’s a smaller window of intervention between the progressive landmarks of rehab for women compared to men. There are definitely gender differences in terms of sexual and physical abuse along with the higher rates of psychiatric comorbidity among women.
  • Barriers of Treatment for Women versus Men: Many treatment settings such as the Lanna Rehab Center are addressing the barriers of treatment for both men and women in order to encourage more women to enter treatment. This is in contrast with many rehab centers that use the male paradigm as their standard for rehabilitation. Individualized therapy should also take into consideration the unique problems facing women such as sex abuse, physical abuse, and mental disorders that push women to become users and addicts. This also includes couples and family therapy along with the usual therapeutic interventions.
  • Negative Consequences from Substance Abuse in Men and Women: Men and women also differ in regards to the negative consequences of being addicted. Gender-sensitive rating instruments should be used in order to measure problem severity and treatment efficacy. It’s interesting to see if the gender differences over the past 25 years will become more or less demarcated when compared to younger generations and their more progressive views in the place of women in society.

Gender Differences in Alcohol Addiction

people, loneliness, alcohol and lifestyle concept - unhappy single young man in hat drinking beer at bar or pub

Men have higher alcohol use and misuse rates, which include binge drinking. Nevertheless, it’s not the case in young adults. It’s actually girls aged 12 to 20 years old who have a slightly higher rate of alcohol abuse and binge drinking compared to males who are also in the same age category. More info on the gender differences in alcohol use is available care of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

  • More Damaging in The Long Term for Women: As far as women’s health is concerned, long-term drinking is actually more damaging to women compared to men, even if they’ve been drinking less alcohol for a shorter length of time. The impact of alcohol is devastating to the so-called fairer gender. Death rates for alcoholism for women are 50 to 100 percent higher than men, including deaths from liver disease, stroke, heart disease, suicides, and alcohol-related accidents (like when driving under the influence).
  • Unique Health Risks for Women: Females actually suffer from unique health risks from alcohol that you won’t find from males. For instance, heavy drinking in women is linked to increased risk of having unprotected sex, which results in pregnancy (which can’t happen to men) or disease (which can happen to men but the rates of STDs thanks to drinking is higher among women). There’s also an increased risk of sexual assault and violence (likelier among women who drink than men who drink).
  • Female Metabolism and Cancer Fears: Certain women who drink for as little as a drink daily have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, particularly those who have a family history of breast cancer and who are postmenopausal. Women also metabolize alcohol differently because of the gender differences in gastric tissue activity. As a result, women tend to have higher blood ethanol concentrations than men when consuming comparable alcohol amounts. Therefore, females tend to get drunk easier from smaller amounts of alcohol compared to males.

Gender Differences in Marijuana (Cannabis) Addiction

As in the case of other addictive drugs, fewer women than men use marijuana at all. For females that are cannabis users, the effects of the drug can be different for them than for their male counterparts. According to research, women have a more impaired spatial memory when using the drug when compared to men. Meanwhile, men tend to enjoy a great and more potent cannabis-induced high compared to women.

  • Male and Female Teenagers Using Marijuana: According to a teenager-specific study on marijuana usage, the male high school marijuana smokers reported problems in school and poor family relationships more often than their female counterparts. Nevertheless, a few other studies show that teenaged girl marijuana users may have a higher risk of abnormalities in brain structure associated with regular exposure to cannabis compared to teenaged boy marijuana users.
  • The Effects of THC on the Genders: According to animal tests, female rats are shown to be more sensitive to the activity-altering, pain-relieving, and rewarding effects of marijuana’s main active ingredient of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. Sex hormones are the ones responsible for these THC effect differences between sexes. There’s also a possibility in the rodent study that there are also sex-related differences in the operation of the endocannabinoid system or the system that signals where cannabinoids such as THC will exert their influence.
  • A Unisex Effect on Mental Health Condition: The effect of marijuana on the mental health condition of both sexes will result in an increased risk of at least one disorder such as anxiety or depression. Regardless, men who have marijuana dependence disorder have higher rates of antisocial personality disorders and other substance user problems. On the other hand, women who are addicted to marijuana have higher rates of anxiety disorders and/or panic attacks.
  • Marijuana Use Disorder Severity, Development, and Treatment Rates: Even though the severity of marijuana use disorders from cannabis dependence is higher for men in general, women can also develop the same disorders at a faster pace right after they first use marijuana due to gender-specific genetic differences. Meanwhile, the rates of seeking treatment for marijuana use disorder and marijuana dependence disorder are universally low for both males and females probably in part of the growing social acceptance and legalization of marijuana.

Gender Differences in Stimulant (Cocaine and Methamphetamine) Addiction

Stressed businessman working overtime in depression

Research in both animals and humans showcase that women might be more vulnerable to stimulants and their reinforcing or rewarding effects. This could be due to how estrogen can make one more sensitive to the body’s need for reward that leads to reinforced behavior. According to animal tests, females are likelier to start using cocaine and take it in larger amounts when compared to males.

  • Men Are Less Vulnerable to Cocaine’s Cardiovascular Effects: Women also exhibit increased sensitivity compared to men when it comes to the side effects of cocaine on the blood vessels and heart. Meanwhile, both sexes who use cocaine show similar negative consequences when it comes to academic achievement, concentration, and learning, even if women have been using cocaine longer than the men. So in that regard, the sexes are equal even with unequal usage rates.
  • Females Exhibit Fewer Brain Complications from Cocaine Usage: There’s a lower likelihood of blood flow abnormalities in the frontal regions of the female cocaine user’s brain when compared to their male counterparts. The findings suggest that there’s a gender-based mechanism protecting the fairer gender from some of the most detrimental effects of cocaine when it comes to the brain just as there’s something protecting males from the more negative consequences of alcohol compared to females.
  • Females Take Meth to Boost Their Energy for Homecare and Childcare: In regards to methamphetamine usage, females report that they tend to start using that particular drug because they believe it will decrease their exhaustion and increased their energy when it comes to dealing with work, homecare, childcare, and tasks with the family. This might be particularly true of single mothers who have to juggle work with taking care of her children without having a partner to share expenditures and responsibilities.
  • Women Using Meth for Weight Loss and Depression: Females also make use of biker’s coffee for the sake of weight loss. One study reports that significantly more women use meth for weight loss compared to men. It’s also no coincidence that women who are meth users tend to have a high rate of co-occurring depression, which means that when placing them in rehab, they should go to centers with dual diagnosis and individual therapy incorporated into their treatment process so that the depression can be treated alongside with the meth addiction at the same time.
  • Women Use Meth Earlier in Age Than Men: There are more women who use meth at a younger age when compared to men at the same age. They therefore start earlier than men when it comes to first using meth. Furthermore, female meth users tend to become even more dependent on the drug compared to male meth users. Women are also unlikelier to switch to another drug of choice when they lack access to meth compared to men who more readily substitute meth for something else. Additionally, as with other drugs, females tend to showcase increased receptiveness to addiction treatment versus males.

Substance Abuse Among Genders in a Nutshell


Women tend to be more vulnerable to the effects of drugs than men but in the same regard, they’re also more receptive to rehab treatment than males as well. Men tend to get more out of drug usage but at the same vein face fewer negative consequences when using the same dosages compared to women. At any rate, the changing attitude of society towards women and their supposed societal roles as well as the increase of women in the workforce can lead to a change in this discrepancy between how women are addicted to drugs versus how men are addicted to drugs.

Ironically, as men and women become more equal in the office, family, and society as a whole, women will get more opportunities to drink and enter drinking culture as well as become part of drug culture that also used to be male dominated. Women entering professions and sports that used to be male-dominated as well can lead to a paradigm shift in how drug addiction comes about between sexes, particularly in terms of how men used to influence their female partners or spouses into using drugs because of the patriarchal dominance in the family unit or in relationships.

Certain gender differences will still remain down the line, but the mostly societal differences between the sexes should change in future, leading more equalities and similarities in drug effects as well as the emergence of new gender differences.

Both Genders Can Depend on Lanna Rehab for Treatment

Regardless of which gender you are, you can always count on the Lanna Rehabilitation Center in Chiang Mai, Thailand to help you out. Lanna understands that drug rehab should be taken on a case-by-case or individual basis since even by sex, there are differences in how people react to substance abuse and dependence.

It’s also one of the fastest growing rehab centers in Thailand. Situated in Chiang Mai, the clinic is renowned across the globe as a destination par excellence when it comes to world-class narcotics and alcohol dependence. Many of their patients fly to them from all corners, including the Americas, Europe, and Australia.

Please contact them today and get a FREE addiction consultation and booking info.

Martin Peters

Martin Peters has a BA (Hons) Dip HE Dip RN CSAT III and is the Group Program Director Lanna Healthcare. He is a Registered Nurse and Certified Substance Abuse Therapist working in the mental health field since 1994; Martin has had a wide range of experience in management and supervisory roles within established healthcare systems, and has provided consultancy services to a number of private and public sector organizations in the UK and Asia in terms of management, policy writing, accreditation and recruitment. Martin’s addictions experience has been in developing inpatient services in Thailand since 2009, both clinical and operational. He has been instrumental in expanding and developing a non 12 step inpatient treatment centre and opening a further inpatient centre with a 12 step approach, implementing KIPU Electronic Records, strengthening hospital partnerships, introducing a Scholarship for students under the Masters in Addiction Studies Program at The ASEAN Institute for Health Development and working with an international accreditation body. Martin has also been a speaker at several international conferences on addiction, including ASEAN conferences and has also guest lectured at Mahidol University (Thailand), University of Sarghoda (Pakistan) Institute of Medical Sciences (Pakistan) and has been a representative on the CARF Standards Advisory Committee for 2016.In 2015. Martin became a Co-Founder of Lanna Healthcare, launching Lanna Rehab in March 2016 and opening Jintra in January 2018. In June of 2018, Martin was involved in the merger of Lanna and DARA, becoming Thailand's biggest private licensed operator. Martin is currently a Joint and Asia Health Co Ltd Owner Operator of Lanna Healthcare Co Ltd, which under its umbrella manages Lanna Rehab in Chiang Mai, Jintra Rehab in Chiang Mai and DARA Rehab in Koh Chang - all Thailand MoPH Licensed Addiction Facilities providing world-class treatment in Thailand.

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