In our country’s fairly recent past, heroin abuse was primarily associated with young, inner-city males. In the past decade, it’s moved out of the urban jungle and into the suburbs, where it’s affecting more women than ever before.
While men are more likely than women to develop an addiction to heroin, women are affected by it differently than men are, partly due to biological differences between the sexes and partly due to culture-based gender differences.
Women, Heroin and Mental Illness
A survey by the Caron Foundation found that women were more likely than men to abuse heroin to relieve psychological symptoms, and they reported more occurrences of depression and anxiety than men.
Women are more likely than men in general to suffer from a mental illness. Women are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime, and they’re more likely to have an anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, typically due to violence or sexual abuse.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that between 55 and 99 percent of all women in treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction have been sexually abused, and women who experience sexual abuse as a child are three times more likely than non-abused women to develop an addiction as an adult.
Women, Relationships and Heroin Abuse
Women who are addicted to heroin are more likely than men to be in a sexual relationship with a partner who also uses drugs, and most women who use heroin intravenously were given their first injection by a male sexual partner. However, women in general are less likely than men to transition from snorting or smoking heroin to injecting it.
Women who are addicted to heroin are less likely to be employed than their male counterparts. While 57 percent of men received money for heroin from a partner or family member, 75 percent of women did, and at the same time, women who are addicted to heroin are more likely than men to come from a dysfunctional family.
Heroin Abuse and Pregnancy
Using heroin during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, premature birth and birth defects. Children born addicted to heroin will likely suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome, a collection of withdrawal symptoms that have an important effect on a child’s development and behavior.
However, women who are pregnant shouldn’t be detoxified, since this also negatively impacts a fetus, particularly in the first and third trimester. Instead, it’s recommended that pregnant women be treated with methadone, which has fewer effects on the unborn baby.
Effects of Heroin on Women’s Health
Heroin has devastating health effects for women. Since women generally weigh less than men, even a small dose can lead to a dangerous or fatal overdose. This risk is greater when heroin is abused with other drugs, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines.
Heroin abuse can worsen mental health problems, and it can cause problems with the reproductive system, including missed periods and fertility problems. Long-term heroin abuse can lead to a loss of interest in sex and the inability to regulate behaviors and cope with stress.
Women with a heroin addiction are likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as prostitution, in order to support their habit. This puts them at a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases or being the victim of sexual assault or other violence.
Women and Treatment
Due to the high prevalence of a history of sexual abuse and other gender-based factors, women suffering from a heroin addiction are more likely to recover in a women-only treatment program. Gender-specific treatment ensures that women feel comfortable in a safe and supportive environment where other women have likely experienced the same issues and challenges in life.
A women’s treatment program that offers a holistic approach to treatment will utilize a variety of traditional and alternative therapies that address issues of the mind, body and spirit. If you’re addicted to heroin, treatment provides the opportunity to improve your physical and mental health, restore damaged relationships and gain a high level of personal insight.
Getting professional help is essential for beating an addiction. Taking the first step and seeking help is often the hardest part of treatment, and although beating a heroin addiction isn’t easy, many women have done it. You can do it, too.