Women struggling with substance use disorders face a set of distinctive issues that must be addressed, in order to provide women with the highest chance of recovery. In past decades, most research on substance abuse focused on men. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 9.4 percent of all adult men in the US were considered to have alcohol use disorder (AUD) compared to only 4.7 percent of women. That gap is closing steadily, and we must find effective ways to treat women that can meet all of their needs. To do so we must acknowledge that women tend to have different experiences and circumstances unknown to men, that impact their decisions to use substances. In this blog Anchored Tides Recovery will discuss 5 ways that addiction impacts women specifically. By gaining insight into the struggle’s women face, you may be better equipped to change the outcome of your current situation or provide help to a loved one in need. 

Biological Factors

Men and women have different body types! According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, scientists who study substance use have discovered that women who use drugs can have issues related to hormones, menstrual cycle, fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause. These issues may relate to an individual’s stress, fatigue, and chronic pain; influencing their decision to use alcohol and substances as a way to self-medicate. In regards specifically to alcohol, women face natural biological differences that lead them to developing dependence on alcohol more quickly. Women tend to weigh less than men and naturally a woman’s body contains less water and more fatty tissue. While water dilutes alcohol, fat retains it, putting a woman’s organs at greater exposure. Alcohol-related problems such as brain atrophy or liver damage occur more quickly and at a greater rate in women than in men. Drinking also carries a higher risk of breast cancer in some women. In regard to stimulant use, a woman’s hormones heighten the phenomenon of craving due to changes during the menstrual cycle and hormone production. Studies suggest that estrogen impacts the brain’s dopamine “reward effects” when taking stimulants, resulting in women becoming addicted to these substances faster than men. Women are at a greater risk of physical health issues when abusing substances. 


Sociological Factors

Women face a unique set of issues around addiction resulting from societal pressures. These include gender specific addiction stigma, relationship dynamics, childcare responsibilities, career pressure, and weight. In today’s society women experience many demands from the beauty industry to look a certain way. Many women turn to substances to lose weight to meet a desired image. Although it is normal to experience stress within a career, many women lack the tools and skills to be able to use their voice to meet their needs within the workplace, resulting in the use of substances to alleviate stress. In relationships, women might use substances to impress men or to break stereotypes that women cannot handle the use of substances. The pressure’s women face on a daily basis from their expected role in their community may be a reason why some turn to substance use.


Mental Illness and Addiction

Women are strikingly more likely than men to suffer from mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The discomfort of symptoms that these illnesses cause, can lead women to using substances as a way to self-medicate. There also exists a strong connection between eating disorders and drug abuse. Women that struggle with both substance abuse and mental health disorders have what can be referred to as a “dual- diagnosis” or having a “co-occurring” disorder. The statistics of women as victims of rape and sexual assault are much higher than that of men, resulting in increased symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in those seeking treatment. 

substance abuse among women

Motherhood and Addiction

According to a study done by Caron, the number one contributing factor to a woman’s addiction is stress or anxiety related to motherhood, with 49% of women relating to this statement. Over 30% of women were reluctant to seek treatment because they were worried about leaving their families. Raising children can be stressful and demanding. Many mothers have unique issues related to their situation such as low self-esteem, unhappy relationships, the pressure of having to do it all, and a lack of purpose. This holds true even more so for single moms with a lack of support. Many moms will turn to stimulants to keep their energy levels up. Others will use opioids and benzos to relax and unwind. If you are a mother or know of a mother that needs help, you are not alone. There is no need to be consumed in shame or fear. Mothers can recover. 

Treatment Modalities

Unfortunately, traditional addiction treatment programs were based on research of men. Only 8 percent of addiction research is about women’s needs. It is important to address economic factors, cultural issues, gender related stigma, and relationship patterns in order to find the best treatment plan and group of professionals to aid in the treatment of the woman in need. There are often economic gaps for women and treatment can be expensive. When clinically appropriate, some women may respond better to an outpatient setting where the stress of childcare and added expense of housing can be revoked. Gender specific treatment can provide women with a safe space to speak freely about their struggles and experiences without fear of judgment or backlash. Women deserve to be honored and respected throughout the treatment process and the company of empowering female role models can aid in their healing process. It is important to find a facility that will address any mental health needs and co-occurring disorders the individual might be struggling with. Trauma therapy and relationship management should be addressed as well. 

Anchored Tides Recovery For Women

Anchored Tides Recovery is a women owned addiction treatment center for women. We offer partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient treatment options for women struggling with substance abuse and addiction. Reach out to us today to learn more about our services & how we can help you! 


Works Cited


“Addiction Among Women.” Sunrise House, sunrisehouse.com/addiction-demographics/women/.

 “The Differences in Addiction Between Men and Women.” Addiction Center, www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/differences-men-women/.

“Disease of Addiction.” American Addiction Centers, americanaddictioncenters.org/disease-of-addiction.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Addiction in Women.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/addiction-in-women.

Liquori, Thomas. “Substance Abuse & Addiction Recovery for Mothers.” Gateway, 14 Aug. 2019, www.gatewayfoundation.org/addiction-blog/addiction-recovery-for-mothers/.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Substance Use in Women.” NIDA, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/substance-use-in-women.


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