Substance Abuse: Young Men & Women Face Different Realities

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Recovering from substance abuse or alcoholism is never easy, especially considering the differences men and women face when struggling with a substance abuse problem. Alcohol affects everyone differently, especially considering gender differences. Hormones and body chemistry mean drastic differences between the overall effect of alcohol abuse, withdrawal, and ability to overcome alcoholism. Here are some profound differences between how men and women process alcohol and other drugs differently.

Women Generally Have Lower Tolerance
Because women have smaller body weights; naturally they are more likely to become intoxicated after indulging in the same amount of alcohol as a man. In addition, a man and a woman of equal body weight will process alcohol differently due to disparities in hormone and metabolic rates. A man’s general higher muscle mass means a faster metabolism, meaning he will be able to get alcohol out of his system faster.

Women Are More Likely to Engage in “Drunkorexia”
Women, especially young women, are more likely than men to engage in “drunkorexia,” or the act of cutting calories very low so that they can overindulge in alcohol that night but not go over their calorie goals for the day. This dangerous trend leads to inadequate nutrition throughout the day and an increased danger of intoxication. Drinking on an empty stomach speeds up alcohol absorption by the body, leading to higher levels of drunkenness in a short period of time. Almost exclusively women practice this fad.

Women Are Less Likely to Seek or Receive Assistance
For reasons we may not completely understand yet, women are less likely to receive assistance for alcohol and substance abuse. When they do receive assistance, they tend to fare better in women-only programs, either out of an increase in support, generally higher comfort levels with other women, and less concern for judgment from other participants in the program.

Comorbidity Differences
Comorbidity is the study of alcohol or substance abuse combined with some other psychiatric disorder. Generally, alcohol abuse is comorbid with such disorders as eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and nicotine use. We’ve all heard people say they only smoke when they drink; for some, alcohol and cigarettes go hand in hand. However, for many more women than men, alcohol abuse goes with depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric illnesses.

Other Concerns

Alcohol abuse among women has special concerns, both physiologically and socially. For example, a woman who is intoxicated may lose sexual agency and be unable to consent to sex. While the same could happen to a man, physiological barriers prohibiting a very drunk or passed-out man from performing and their overall higher tolerance put men at a lower risk for this kind of sexual assault. In addition, any pregnancy concerns can be amplified by the use of alcohol, as early fetal development is most highly effective by the consumption of alcohol. While men certainly face concerns with regard to alcohol abuse, there are more repercussions for women.

Differences in Treatment
While it may seem difficult to remain optimistic when it comes to handling alcohol and drug abuse in women, fortunately, treatment centers and doctors are becoming much more capable at creating therapies and treatments that are gender-specific. Each gender has its own concerns and problems in alcohol abuse treatment, and these newer treatment programs are developing ways to safely address those concerns.

Alcohol and substance abuse is never easy to handle, regardless of your gender. But there is a higher chance of success if your program is geared toward your gender and its particular problems and concerns.

Sarah Pinkerton

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