Women are built differently from men. They are physically smaller. They carry less water in their bodies. They have hormone fluctuations due to menstruation. They can get pregnant. The list goes on. So to properly approach gender-specific treatment and fully understand how men and women respond to drugs, we must first consider the physiological variances between the genders when drugs are involved.
A result of biology, women actually process, metabolize, and eliminate drugs of abuse very differently than their male counterparts. In general, they are more sensitive to the consumption of alcohol and drugs and more prone to their long-term effects. Their bodies retain drugs and alcohol for longer periods of time. For this reason, women tend to experience negative physical consequences of drugs and alcohol much sooner and with lower consumption levels than men. Specifically, women are quicker to develop dependence, organ damage, and diseases relating to substance abuse.
How does the female body process drugs of abuse?
Several biological factors play a role in how women absorb, process, and experience drugs. Below are some of the attributes that can contribute to the negative physical effects of substance abuse in women:
- Body fat: While women are physically smaller than men, they typically have higher levels of body fat. Because many drugs are designed to dissolve in lipids, women are more likely to trap certain drugs in their body for longer periods of time.
- Water weight: Recent studies have found that when men and women of the same body weight consume equal amounts of alcohol, women have higher blood alcohol concentration levels. This is due to the lower volume of water in women’s bodies compared to men’s. Women have less water to dilute drugs and alcohol in their systems.
- Hormones: Specifically relating to painkillers, the female body experiences higher levels of pleasure and pain relief when taking drugs. Research has indicated this response is directly related to estrogen, which tempers the body’s pain receptors. Because of women’s fluctuations in hormones each month, there are periods when it is harder to quit drug use. Markedly during menstruation, when glucose in the brain is at its lowest, women are more likely to relapse.
- Stomach Acidity: Women have less acidity in their stomachs than men. Stomach acidity helps to break down certain drugs. With lower stomach acidity, women have been found to absorb certain drugs more quickly than their male counterparts. This means that they feel the effects of certain drugs, such as antianxiety pills, more quickly and strongly than men.
- Liver function: Drugs and alcohol are processed by the liver. According to gender-based research, men’s bodies process these substances more quickly than women do. This means that drugs and alcohol tend to remain in women’s livers, and women’s bodies, for longer periods of time. This is a contributing factor to the presence of liver disease in women.
- Kidney function: Similar to the liver, men’s kidneys work at a faster pace than women’s do. Kidneys are responsible for filtering out drugs from the body. This adds to the fact that drugs stay in women’s bodies longer than they do in men’s, and puts women at greater chance of kidney disease later down the road.
- Blood proteins: Women have less binding capacity in their blood than men, meaning that their blood proteins are not capable of holding foreign substances like drugs of abuse. This inability puts them at greater risk for the adverse side effects of drugs.
For women, how do drugs affect the body?
Given what we know about the way drugs interact with the female body, there is great cause for concern. If your daughter, sister, friend, or significant other is regularly using drugs, know that there are substantial risks involved with her substance abuse.
According to the SAMHSA’s Tip 51, women both young and old are highly vulnerable to addiction and substance use disorders. Depending on the substance of choice, they are more prone to liver and heart disease, hypertension, brain damage, and psychiatric consequences than men. Women who use drugs are also at risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
As outlined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, here are some of the specific physical effects of drugs on females:
- Marijuana: Marijuana impairs spatial memory in women more often than in men.
- Stimulants: Because of estrogen levels in the female body, women are more sensitive to the rewarding effects of stimulants such as cocaine. Women are quicker to take cocaine, and in larger amounts, than men.
- Prescription drugs: As discussed in our last blog post on co-occurring disorders in women, females are more likely to have anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other mental health issues than men. In efforts to self-medicate, women are more likely to use, misuse, and become addicted to prescription drugs like antidepressants or benzodiazepines.
- Alcohol: Women who drink heavily or regularly are more likely to develop complications such as liver disease, cardiac-related conditions such as hypertension, reproductive consequences, osteoporosis, breast and other cancers, and neurological effects, HIV/AIDS, and Hepatitis C.
- Ecstasy: Women are more likely to experience adverse psychoactive effects of Ecstasy, such as perceptual changes, thought disturbances, and loss of control of their bodies. They are also more likely to experience acute adverse effects such as jaw clenching, dry mouth, and lack or loss of appetite.
- Other: Women who use cocaine, heroin, or other injection drugs are at a greater risk of developing herpes, pulmonary tuberculosis, and pneumonia.
Do not wait to get your loved one the help that she deserves. You can protect her from these conditions simply by getting her the right professional help. Call Turnbridge today at 877-581-1793 to learn about our women’s treatment center in CT.