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How Does Gender Play a Role in Addiction?

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Our gender influences several aspects of our lives, behavior and development. This basic fact has led many people to explore the question: does gender impact addiction? If so, what difference does it make and how does this difference impact treatment?

A number of studies published by the National Institute of Drug Addiction (NIDA) have explored the impact that gender has in drug addiction. Several studies have intently focused on the differences in how men and women are first exposed to drugs, the risk of abuse and addiction and the pursuit of effective treatment.

The NIDA supported and published research has indicated that gender does in fact play an integral role in the formation of a drug addiction. Gender differences come into play at various stages in the formation of drug abuse, such as when the drug is first experimented with, which type of drug is chosen, the effects of the drug, and even some differences in drug treatment.

What Drugs Are Preferred By Each Gender?

NIDA studies have found that men are much more likely to be in situations where they are able to use drugs for the first time. However, both genders appear to be equally as likely to try the drug and begin the path to addiction. Since men are typically presented with more opportunities for drug usage, drug addiction tends to be higher in men.

Interestingly, men and women tend to form addictions to different drugs. Women are more likely to become addicted to sedatives or prescription anxiety pills. Conversely, men tend to be more likely to form a dependency on marijuana or alcohol. Both genders appear to have an equal susceptibility to cocaine, heroin and tobacco.

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Do The Physiological Effects of Drugs Change?

Several studies of both humans and animals have indicated that males and females differ in their physiological responses to different drugs. In one animal study where animals were presented with the ability to self-administer IV doses of cocaine, females were prone to administer the drug quicker and in higher amounts than males. Other studies with similar focuses have indicated that women are likely more sensitive to the cardiovascular effects of stimulants such as cocaine.

In human studies, men and women were both given the same doses of cocaine, yet women were shown to have the same response despite the men having a higher concentration of cocaine in their bloodstream. Other studies that focused on the cerebral effects of cocaine indicated that men may be damaged more by the drug than women.

These various studies centered on cocaine help illustrate how gender impacts the physiological response to certain drugs. While the exact reason as to why isn’t always clear, it’s typically believed to be due to hormonal differences as well as overall physical development. These core differences help provide more insight into how addiction is formed and treated.

How Does Gender Impact Treatment?

Becoming clean and sober is an arduous and rewarding journey that is different for each addict. Treatments certainly vary between men and women, however, treatments also vary between members of the same gender. An ideal treatment program that provides lasting sobriety consists of several working pieces that are tailored to the individual. This means that while gender is indeed a factor, there are no established methods of treatment thus far solely based on gender. Addiction is a complex disease and tailored care is the most effective path to sobriety.

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  1. NIDA Notes – Volume 15; Number 4, Gender Differences in Drug Abuse Risks and Treatment, National Institute on Drug Abuse, September 2000,

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