Drug use and drug addiction is universally dangerous. While the high of any drug may provide a sense of relaxation and/or happiness, the side effects and possibilities of addiction are rarely worth the trouble. Maintaining your distance from drugs and alcohol could be the best decision that you ever make for your health and overall well-being. Women, though, have several considerations when it comes to drug use, and the dangers therein. It’s widely understood by now that using drugs while pregnant puts the fetus at risk. It’s relatively new publicly-available knowledge that women, regardless of whether or not they’re pregnant, have a couple of items of concern that men may not experience.
Research on drug use and drug addiction conducted within the last few decades has been more inclusive of women than ever before. Before, social hangups surrounding women’s roles prevented more studies from approval and execution. Today, the importance of maintaining awareness and gathering as much information as possible about the way that drugs affect women is very important, and the scientific communities better understand and appreciate that. The reasons, the effects, and the risks can vary greatly from person to person, but there are some larger factors that affect a woman’s involvement with drugs, as well as what the drugs do to her body.
Women who live in abuse situations are the demographic most likely to struggle with addiction. Within that demographic, a substantial number of these women are on the LGBT+ identity spectrum, and have had difficult home lives as a result of their sexual identities. Whether a young woman is living with an abusive parent or parents, or an abusive partner, she is vulnerable to drug and alcohol addiction as a way to relieve the stress of her situation, or to momentarily escape. Many drugs also have the ability to alleviate pain, and this could make a drug invaluable to anyone in a domestic abuse situation.
Vulnerability to Mental Illness and Homelessness
Mental illness and drug abuse can often go hand-in-hand. If you live in a major metropolitan area, the epidemic of homelessness and mental illness is easy to see everyday. There is no quick remedy for the huge problem of homelessness in the United States (or anywhere else), but understanding it will help us to combat it. With that, it is important to understand that everything dangerous about homelessness for men is at least twice as dangerous for women and children.
Homeless women, particularly those who abuse drugs, are at constant risk for sexual assault, and developing mental illness, with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia high on the list of commonly-suffered illnesses. Mental illness and drug addiction, of course, are a terrible combination for anyone, but also create more dangers for already-vulnerable women. Some drugs have the power to exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness, and create a person that isn’t true to life.
Another reason that this combination is so dangerous for women is because drug use effects women’s brains differently than men’s brains. Addicted women often fall into the throes of addiction more deeply than men, and often require multiple trips to drug rehabilitation centers to stay clean and sober. Also, the bridge between first use of a drug and full-blown addiction is much shorter with women in general, so women may experience addiction in far less time than men may. Imagine having a mental illness, treating it with heroin, losing your home, and facing arrest for prostitution in an effort to feed yourself, or your addiction. With a perspective like that, it isn’t difficult to understand how incredibly dangerous addictive drugs can be to women.
Higher Rates of Death from Overdose
Probably the biggest danger to a woman’s life in the conversation around addictive drugs is the risk of death by overdose. Overdosing on any drug, prescription medication or illicit, is a huge risk for everyone. Scientists are still trying to understand why, specifically, it is easier and faster for women to become addicted to drugs, but because it is easier for women to become addicted, women are also at higher risk of death from overdose, particularly from opioids. Despite the higher rates of overdose, the shortened period between first try and addiction, and the greater vulnerability of women to mental illness and domestic abuse, women remain less likely than men to experiment in the first place, as men are the overwhelming majority of those actively seeking treatment for drug abuse problems. Seeking medical attention for women living with addiction to drugs or alcohol is extremely important for this reason, among all of the other reasons.
Whatever is consumed by an expecting mother is nearly-guaranteed to also reach the fetus. Since the 1980s, women in the United States have been warned away from smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol while pregnant. The warnings, though, have not been enough to stop women from using drugs during pregnancy, nor does use of drugs and alcohol prevent pregnancies from happening. During the crack epidemic of 1980s New York City, hundreds of poor mothers living with an addiction to crack cocaine delivered dependent babies. Most of these babies were fortunate enough to survive, and heal from their born addictions, but there were many that did not. Using drugs while pregnant puts the baby at risk for low birth weight, developmental disorders, small head size, cleft palate, and many other cognitive, intellectual, and behavioral effects. Using tobacco during pregnancy, for example, can triple the risk of stillbirth, a terrible risk that exists even when tobacco isn’t being used.
Keeping the women in your life close, reporting domestic violence, and educating everyone on the dangers of drugs and alcohol is the best way to protect the people in your life.
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