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The Differences In Addiction Recovery For Women vs. Men

Circle of supportive men and women in addiction treatment program

Recovering from an addiction is a unique process for every person who goes through it, but specific trends do exist for different groups. Understanding these trends can give friends, family members, and other supporters valuable insight into a given person’s situation—and may improve the effectiveness of recovery efforts.

Men and women often recover from addiction differently and face different challenges along the way. In this blog, you will learn more about the various factors affecting men and women who are recovering from addiction, and discover resources that can help the people in your life.

Addiction Rates in Men and Women

Men are more likely than women to have a substance abuse disorder—defined as a tendency to use drugs or alcohol in a way that causes problems or health issues at home, school, or work. Substance abuse disorders affect 6.4% of males over 12 years old, compared to only 2.5% of females.

However, it is critical to remember that prevalence and severity are two completely different metrics, and that both are important when forming an understanding of how substance abuse affects a given group of people. While men are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than women, substance abuse is more likely to send a woman to the emergency room or cause a fatal overdose than it is for a man.

Unconscious woman lying on table next to open pill bottle

Why Is Substance Abuse More Dangerous For Women?

The information above suggests that substance abuse is more deadly for women than it is for men, but the reasons behind the data are more complex than it may indicate by itself.

While it is true that hormonal differences, average size, and body composition all play roles in how a person metabolizes substances, there are also important sociological factors that affect the impact of substance abuse on people of different sexes. Men, for example, are more likely to engage in substance abuse because of peer pressure, or as part of a group. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

The implications of such information are significant. If women are more likely than men to abuse drugs or alcohol alone, they may also be less likely to have help nearby during an overdose—increasing their risk of death or a medical emergency.

Critically, women are also more likely than men to face barriers when accessing treatment for substance abuse. They are also less likely than men to seek treatment in the first place (although it is possible that they are partially prevented by their relative lack of access to high-quality care). Finally, women are more likely to suffer from serious side effects of substance abuse than men, and are more likely to relapse.

In sum, men are more likely to:

  • Abuse drugs and alcohol in general
  • Abuse drugs and alcohol in groups
  • Abuse drugs and alcohol because of peer pressure
  • Seek treatment for drug and alcohol abuse

Women are more likely to:

  • Abuse drugs and alcohol alone
  • Experience side effects or die from substance abuse
  • Face barriers accessing treatment for substance abuse
  • Relapse after completing treatment for substance abuse

How Can Treatment and Recovery Programs Address These Differences?

How should institutions and organizations that promote recovery respond to the data presented above? One obvious suggestion is to expand general access to substance abuse treatment for women and girls. Research from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also shows that some women may avoid treatment if they cannot access gender-specific recovery programs, so creating women-only recovery programs may encourage more people to seek treatment overall.

Most contemporary research on how addiction affects different sexes seems to agree on the importance of recognizing and appreciating gender differences. It is also vital to remember that the rate of substance abuse for people in queer and trans communities is consistently higher than for people who identify as cisgender. The stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and violence that disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ individuals are all stressors linked to higher addiction rates, so treatment programs of all kinds must improve their efforts to accommodate individuals across the spectrum of gender identities.

How the Calgary Dream Centre Is Helping

The Calgary Dream Centre embraces the diversity of our community and rejects the idea that effective treatment can be standardized. Our evidence-based approaches to addiction recovery are tailored to each individual we serve, and we strive to make our services accessible to people of all identities.

Learn more about our mission and discover resources for yourself or your family here. Together we can help Calgarians from all walks of life take meaningful steps forward on their road to recovery from addiction.

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  • Hermina Hoskins

    Written by Hermina Hoskins

    Community Manager Hermina is a graduate of Mount Royal University and has worked in our Community Housing program since 2014. As Community Manager, her role primarily consists of supporting case managers with clients, working to improve staff and client care, and ensuring that Accreditation standards are followed. Hermina was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to Abbotsford, BC, before deciding to call Calgary home. Prior to working at the Calgary Dream Centre, Hermina ran a drywall company, where she worked alongside her husband. In her spare time, she enjoys puzzling, walking her dogs, and spending time with her family.

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