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What Causes Drug Abuse in Young Women?

risk factors for drug abuse in women

Between the ages of 8 and 22, girls become young women. In these years, they are maturing both physically and mentally. They are forming their identity, a sense-of-self, and self-worth. These adolescent years are the most significant years of development, years critical to a young woman’s health and success later down the road. Unfortunately, adolescence and young adulthood are also times of great susceptibility. Girls are transitioning from middle school to high school, and for the first time, are experiencing many social pressures, physical changes, and stronger desires to fit in.

A recent study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University revealed that girls and young women commonly initiate substance abuse during these crucial years. Often, their reasons for trying drugs are tied to the stress and pressures experienced in this transitional period. Sometimes, the causes of drug use in young women are rooted much deeper.

The study proved that the reasons for early drug use among females are very pronounced in young womanhood and widely different than the causes of drug abuse among young men. The study also showed that females, on average, actually become dependent faster and suffer the consequences of drugs sooner than males. Even more, young women are at greater risk of drug abuse and addiction.

Why do girls and young women use drugs in adolescence? What are the risk factors for drug use in females? And what steps can we, as parents and educators, take to prevent it? The following seven factors are the leading causes of drug abuse in girls and young women.

1. Depression and Mental Illnesses

Depression in adolescent girls is not uncommon. Over one-third of high school girls reports regular feelings of sadness or hopelessness. These girls are likelier than boys to consider (23.6 percent vs. 14.2 percent) and attempt (11.2 percent vs. 6.2 percent) suicide. Substance abuse and mental illnesses such as depression often go hand-in-hand. Young women who are depressed and suicidal often self-medicate with drugs of abuse, increasing their risk of drug addiction.  

2. History of Trauma

Among all adolescents in drug treatment, nearly twice as many girls as boys report sexual or physical abuse in their lifetime. Girls who have been physically or sexually abused are also twice as likely to smoke, drink, and use drugs than those who were not abused in childhood.

3. Stress and Inability to Cope

While males tend to externalize their stress with aggression and delinquency, females have a tendency to internalize their reactions to stress. In most cases of severe stress, young women become depressed and withdrawn. According to the survey, 41 percent of young women report their inability to cope with stress as the main reason for using drugs. Stressful life events may include a death or illness in family or friends, parental divorce, changes in school or relationships, and moving from home to home.

4. Low Self-Esteem

Low self-confidence frequently accompanies the teenage years. This is especially true among girls. Body-image and social image are often top priorities for high school girls who want to fit in. They associate weight loss with beauty and popularity. They associate drinking, drug use, and smoking with being sexy, trendy, and cool. They believe that drugs are the answer to their problems.

Teenage girls with low self-confidence are twice as likely as those with higher self-confidence to report drug use. Not only are high school girls more than double as likely to diet and engage in unhealthy weight-related behaviors than boys, but they are also more likely to use drugs or alcohol to try to control their weight.

5. Social Pressures

One study found that many teenage girls initiate drug use to fit in with their peers. Another study of 11 to 13-year old girls revealed that the most “popular” girls believe they are under even more pressure to smoke, drink, and try drugs. According to the report, the more friends a girl has who smoke, drink, or use drugs; the likelier she is to do so herself. If five of her close friends drink alcohol, she is over seven times likelier to drink.

6. Academic Pressures

High school is undoubtedly a time of great academic pressure for young women. It is the time that matters most for colleges, and the time in which students come to a new, mature level of learning. Yet academics and substance abuse can easily (and dangerously) intertwine. Teens who get A’s and B’s in school are at half the risk of drug use as teens who have poor school performance.

7. Lack of Parent-Child Communication

One of the greatest things a parent can do to prevent their daughter’s drug use is simply to communicate. If you believe your teenager is at risk of using drugs, talk to her about the consequences of drug abuse and her options. Teach her how to say no. Educate her about the risks of substance abuse.

Research has proven that the majority of girls who have conversations with their parents about drinking or drug use are reportedly less likely to smoke, drink, or use drugs. Over 50 percent of these girls reported that these conversations helped them learn new things about alcohol or illegal drugs that they did not already know. A lack of communication or relationship between a girl and her parents, however, can lead to earlier initiation of alcohol use and a greater likelihood of drug abuse in young women.

Young women who abuse drugs do so for significantly different reasons than mean. While men use drugs for sensation or social purposes, females are likelier to use drugs to cope with problems, relieve negative feelings, reduce tension, boost confidence, enhance sex and lose weight. For these very reasons, gender-specific treatment is a necessary consideration when considering treatment programs for your daughter.

To learn about Turnbridge Drug Rehab for women, call us today at 877-581-1793.