Addiction in Men vs. Women

One issue women have faced in health care is their exclusion from addiction studies. After many years of focusing on the effect of addictive substances on only men, researchers began including women in their studies. The results of their scientific research discovered several differences in addiction between the genders.

If you or a loved one need a safe space to talk about and recover from substance abuse or addiction, contact Myrtle Beach Recovery to learn more about our recovery programs.

The Reasons For The Differences

Once scientists began finding differences in addiction between men and women, they examined various potential causes. It became clear, that differences in addiction might proceed from other differences in the genders, such as:

  • Sociological factors. Women have many social factors that can contribute to their substance addiction. These factors include expectations around childbirth, raising children, work and home balance, and a disproportionately lower pay scale. Men may feel societal pressure related to success, job performance, and control of emotions that increase the risk of addiction. 
  • Psychological factors. Experts have found that men often begin using drugs and alcohol to celebrate or in “thrill-seeking.” In contrast, women’s road to addiction frequently starts with drugs and alcohol to cope with stress or sad life events.
  • Biological factors. Several biological differences between men and women affect their risk for addiction and the specific substances abused. Scientists believe one of these is how various parts of the brain function between men and women to create and process memories. Another biological factor is the hormonal differences, especially the role of the menstrual cycle.

How Gender Influences Addiction Rates

Men have seemed to struggle much more with addiction to drugs and alcohol than women in the past. However, recent studies show that the numbers for women are increasing and approaching those of men. For instance, the men-to-women ratio in the 1980s for alcohol abuse was around five to one. It is now estimated to be closer to three men to one woman. However, how accurate that data is without including women in the first place is questionable. 

Other general observations include:

  • Men often develop addictions earlier in life.
  • Women tend to develop addictions more rapidly after exposure to a drug or alcohol.
  • Men experience heightened withdrawal symptoms for alcohol addiction.
  • Women are more likely to have intense withdrawal difficulties from smoking cessation.
  • Women are more inclined to relapse than men.

Gender’s Influence On Addiction To Specific Substances

The effect of different drugs and alcohol varies between men and women. Each gender faces specific risks of addiction for various substances, including some of the most abused substances listed below.


Men are more prone to alcohol abuse, but women may suffer more physical damage from alcohol and have higher alcohol-related deaths. In addition, women use alcohol more often to alleviate stress, become addicted more quickly, and are less likely to seek treatment for their addiction. In general, the rate of addiction for women is approaching men’s. Interestingly, it is higher among females in young people between twelve and twenty.

Prescription Opioids

The opioid epidemic has brought devastation to both genders. Women more often than men abuse opioids and develop an addiction faster due to chemical differences in the brain. However, more men die from overdose each year. Many believe that women’s abuse of opioids stems from being more likely to receive prescriptions for pain medications. One study found that they also receive prescriptions for higher doses and more extended periods.


Women may be more susceptible to cocaine addiction because of their vulnerability to the satisfying effects of the drug. This heightened sensitivity has been linked to estrogen, leading women to use cocaine faster and in larger quantities than men. Women also are more resilient to the harmful effects of cocaine on the brain. Relapse affects women more than men and is affected by hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle.


Studies reveal that men tend to use heroin more than women, who use less of the drug for a shorter time. When women use heroin, it is often associated with a romantic relationship. The survival rate of heroin addiction is less for men than women.

Anti-Anxiety Medications

Women seek treatment for conditions such as anxiety and insomnia more often than men. As a result, they receive more anti-depressants, sedatives, and sleeping pills and are more likely to overdose and develop addictions. Death caused by these medications occurs more often in women than men.


Women start using methamphetamine at a younger age and are more prone to addiction than men. Men switch to another drug when methamphetamine is not available, more often. Women are more likely to seek treatment for their addiction than men.

Consider Myrtle Beach Recovery

Myrtle Beach Recovery can help you or a loved one struggling with substance addiction. We offer several programs to help you recover and stay on a path of sobriety and contentment.

Contact Myrtle Beach Recovery to learn more about our recovery programs.