Male or female, finding out that a loved one is using – or addicted to – drugs is devastating. You may be wondering how this could have happened, or why your loved one chose this path. The truth is, no one chooses to become addicted. Rather, no one thinks that they will become addicted. But for many people – and women especially – they do.
While research shows that drug use is more common among men, women are just as likely to develop a substance use disorder. In fact, women progress from initiation to addiction at a faster rate than men. According to Harvard research, women are also quicker to face the medical or social consequences of addiction, and find it harder to quit using drugs over time.
As a concerned loved one, you likely have many questions about women and substance abuse. You may be afraid to ask her these yourself, but questions such as “What drugs do women use?” and “Why do women use drugs?” are likely pressing in your mind. If your daughter, wife, student, friend or girlfriend is using drugs, do not be afraid to intervene. Ask her these questions personally and compassionately. Everyone has a different story, a different drug of choice, and different reasons for using drugs. The earlier you address the problem, the more likely she is to get healthy and accept the help she needs.
Of course, not every woman will respond to these questions right away. Especially with teens and young adults, it can be hard for a user to recognize when a problem exists at all. She may not know why she turned to drugs, and she may need to dig deep to figure this out. A young women’s rehab program can help with this discovery.
While everyone has a different experience, there are common paths that lead girls and women to use drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), women’s reasons for using drugs often include “controlling weight, fighting exhaustion, coping with pain, and attempts to self-treat mental health problems.” But this is just the beginning. Below, we outline some of the top reasons why women use drugs today.
- Traumatic experiences and stressful life events.
Women are more likely to experience trauma, discrimination, and stressful life experiences than men – which are all key risk factors for substance abuse. Close to 75 percent of women in drug treatment have experienced sexual or emotional trauma in their lives. More than half have experienced physical abuse. This is why many women’s treatment centers are trauma-informed and gender-specific, to be able to meet the unique needs of women in recovery.
In addition to trauma (such as domestic violence), women are also more likely to use drugs after experiencing stressful life circumstances. This makes sense. While males tend to externalize their stress with aggression, females have a tendency to internalize their reactions, becoming depressed and withdrawn. According to one survey of young women, 41 percent cited their inability to cope with stress as the main reason for using drugs. For young women in particular, stressful life events might include a death or illness in family or friends, parental divorce, changes in school or relationships, and moving from home to home. According to the NIDA, divorce, loss of child custody, or the death of a partner are also common triggers of substance abuse in women over 18.
- Mental health disorders.
We know that mental illness, in any form, can increase a person’s vulnerability to drug use and addiction. However, women are more likely to face mental health disorders overall, putting them at an increased risk for self-medicating substance abuse. As noted in a previous article, women are twice as likely to face an eating disorder, 60 percent more likely to develop an anxiety disorder, and 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder.
Unfortunately, this is not exclusive to adult women, as mental health problems most often develop during the adolescent years. For adolescent girls, depression, feelings of hopelessness, and low self-esteem are very common. High school girls are almost 2x more likely than boys to consider or attempt suicide. Many resort to drinking and using drugs to cope.
- Low self-esteem, weight loss, and desire to fit in.
Among the top reasons why young women using drugs are low self esteem and negative body image. More often than not, growing girls prioritize fitting in – socially and physically – above all else. They associate “skinny” with beautiful and popular, and use drugs in efforts to lose weight. According to the previously cited study of young women, teen girls with low self-confidence are 2x more likely than those with high self-confidence to use drugs. Young women also tend to associate drinking, drug use, and smoking with being sexy, trendy, and cool. In a desire to look good and fit in, they will use drugs.
- Influential relationships.
Sometimes, women just want to fit in with the ones they love most. Sometimes, that is a boyfriend or husband, and sometimes that is a close friend or family member. According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Women are significantly influenced by relationships, relationship status, and the effects of a partner’s substance abuse.” Women are most often introduced to drugs by a significant relationships such as a close friend or family member. Those who use drugs are also more likely to have partners with substance use disorders. And, often, women see their shared drug use as a way to maintain the relationship or connect with their partner.
- High levels of pain.
The opioid crisis is sweeping the states, and many women are affected. According to U.S. News, women report higher levels of pain than men throughout their lifetime, as well as greater susceptibility to opiate and prescription drug abuse. They also experience pain in more areas of the body, more often and for longer periods than men. This is causing prescription drug addiction among women to skyrocket.
“Why do women use drugs?” and “Why won’t she stop?” are common questions we hear from loved ones. We want to know why those closest to us – our daughters, our wives, our friends – would put themselves in such dangerous circumstances. Especially among younger women, it can be hard to recognize the consequences of drug use. Drugs change the chemical make-up in our brains and our ability to make rational decisions. Women using drugs often cannot stop on their own. They need professional help and intervention from loved ones to start their road to recovery. If your loved one is using drugs and at risk for addiction, she may need your help to stop.
To learn about additional causes of drug abuse in women, or about the young women’s drug treatment program at Turnbridge, please do not hesitate to call 877-581-1793. Our clinical staff is highly-experienced in treating co-occurring disorders and substance abuse in young women, particularly those dealing with trauma and stress. We can help your loved one get to the root of her drug abuse, and help her live sober once again.