It’s obvious to even the layperson that women’s bodies differ from men’s, both inside and out, but how does this affect the way different genders should be treated for substance abuse? The difference is particularly noticeable when it comes to alcohol use. Women tend to weigh less than men, meaning it takes less of a substance to cause intoxication, but they also have a higher percentage of fatty tissue, which causes more alcohol to be retained in the body. Women have lower levels of two enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase, which break down alcohol in the stomach and liver. This results in faster alcohol absorption into the bloodstream. Certain hormones can also make women more sensitive to the effects of drugs and alcohol.

It’s not just alcohol use where we see a difference between men and women. Opioid abuse is becoming an increasingly greater problem for women, with an 850% increase in opioid-related deaths between 1999 and 2015. This is almost double the rate for deaths in men. Women are prescribed opioid painkillers more because they tend to be more sensitive to pain and because they are more likely to develop certain painful, chronic conditions like osteoarthritis. Treatment programs for women are more likely to have to take into account long-term pain management in addition to detox and recovery.

Because women are generally more susceptible to the effects of drugs and alcohol, they tend to become addicted after a shorter period of use than men. The also generally have more serious medical, behavioral, and psychological problems. Unfortunately, they are less likely than men to actually enter treatment centers. Part of the explanation for this is that women don’t want to leave their children behind, or they’re afraid that if they do enter a treatment facility their children will be taken away. For any true progress to be made, change needs to take place on the legal front to protect women who seek help.


Another roadblock to women seeking substance abuse treatment is that, despite the ongoing struggle for equality, women still have a harder time finding employment and housing than men. If a woman has to leave her job, even temporarily, to enter treatment, there is a chance she might not get it back. Similarly, if she is forced to give up a rental to attend inpatient rehab, it might be difficult to find another comparable place to live. This further affects her ability to care for and retain custody of children.

Another much-needed change is to what insurance companies will cover. Many will offer prescription coverage to make opioids affordable, but other methods of pain relief remain financially out of reach. For example, an insurance company isn’t likely to pay for sessions with an acupuncturist or yoga instructor, although these alternative therapies can be very effective without the danger of substance addiction.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504.