Substance Abuse in Men vs. Women

For many years, the research done on addiction to drugs and alcohol has mostly been conducted on men and they were the only participants over the decades of study. However, this yielded bias medical results as there are also women who have problems with substance abuse. That all changed in 1990 when several U.S. organizations instituted requirements for women to be included in the study. Since then, experts have discovered a number of differences in addiction between men and women. 

Men and women both experience addiction and through research, it was found that they differ in many ways like how they have experienced addiction, the types of drugs they have used, the reasons for their substance abuse, the consequences it came with, and their needs regarding treatment. While these generalizations don’t always mean that the differences are true, they are there to help shed light on the growing substance abuse in both men and women. At the same time, they offer the opportunity to identify their needs so treatment can be given through analysis. 

Men Vs. Women

Men and women differ when it comes to substance addiction. There are also different factors affecting the results. According to the most recent data gathered by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as well as other organizations, here’s how men and women differ:


  • About 5 million men had reported misuse of drugs and alcohol last year. 
  • 45% of men will generally seek help with their addiction but are less likely to report their abuse of sleeping aids. 
  • Men are most likely to develop an addiction first compared to women.
  • They are also most likely to develop severe addiction disorder, exhibit a co-occurring antisocial personality disorder, and other types of substance abuse compared to women. 
  • Men tend to abuse substances more due to peer pressure.
  • When it comes to recovery, men are more likely to stabilize substance abuse at a lower dose compared to women.
  • They are more likely to experience intense symptoms of alcohol withdrawal compared to females.
  • Men are less likely to relapse and have a longer abstinence period than women.


  • Women are likely to change their substance abuse to substance dependence and addiction at a faster rate than men do.
  • They are also prone to self-medication with illicit substances. 
  • Women are likely to suffer the side effects of their substance abuse and are at risk of overdosing. 
  • They experience intense cravings and are more prone to relapse than men. 
  • 15.8 million women have been reported to use illicit drugs in that past year. 4.6 million of them have misused prescribed medications. 
  • They are more likely to seek help for their sleep medication abuse but will not seek help for their addiction in general. 
  • Women develop substance abuse more quickly compared to men. They are also more likely to have co-occurring anxiety disorders and experience more panic attacks compared to men. 
  • Nicotine patches for those who have tobacco addiction do not work well for women. 

Reasons for Substance Abuse

Men and women have different reasons for using substances. Both genders have different causes as to why they become addicted to substances. Here’s what we found out:


Men are more likely to use substances in order to enhance positive feelings. They are also more likely to use drugs to answer their curiosity, to satisfy their cravings, and for pleasure. Coping with different situations like problems of fitting in or trouble at home are also among the many reasons why men tend to abuse substances. Men are also most likely to have a co-occurring antisocial personality disorder but this does not indicate whether or not this increases their chances of using drugs.  

Generally speaking, men have a faster metabolism. This is also one of the reasons why they tend to take more alcohol and drugs until they are intoxicated. Because of this, men take longer to develop an addiction compared to women. 


According to studies, women are more likely to focus on self-medication when it comes to their psychological problems or peer pressure. Not only that but women who have problems in relationships, experienced trauma as a child, or have trouble at home are more at risk of using drugs and alcohol. They are also known to abuse stimulants like cocaine, nicotine, and meth in order to lose weight. 

Co-occurring anxiety disorders like depression, eating disorders and borderline personality disorders are also likely to happen among many women. Not only that, but they also become intoxicated even if they have taken fewer substances which makes them most likely to develop an addiction faster than most men. Studies show that this is because men and women have different neural systems. Therefore, they both have different motivation and reward systems in the brain. 

Different Drugs Abused by Men and Women


Both men and women have more or less followed the cultural norms when it comes to the use of depressants. In the US, men are likely to abuse alcohol while women are given prescribed medications which they abuse in the long run. However, the gender gap in depressant abuse is getting smaller. A recent study showed that women nowadays are drinking and abusing alcohol at the same levels as men do. 


Alcohol is one of the most common substances abused in the US. Alcohol abuse in men is higher compared to women. About 20% of men have alcohol use disorder or AUD while 7- 12% in women. Recent studies show that women are now falling more in line with men when it comes to their drinking habits. Young adolescent females ages 12 and young adults aging 20 are believed to have higher rates of binge drinking and underage drinking than men who have the same age. 

Women, in general, weigh less than men which is why alcohol has greater effects on the female body. They are also more likely to develop diseases related to alcohol abuse even if they have only abused alcohol for a short period of time. Breast cancer can develop in some women while people with AUD are at risk of death caused by alcohol abuse. This could be alcohol-related accidents, liver and heart diseases, stroke, and even suicide. Women who are intoxicated are also more likely to engage in unprotected sex which could result in STD or pregnancy. 


Between the two genders, women are more sensitive to pain and may experience longer pain compared to men. This is also one of the reasons why they are likely to misuse prescribed opioids like oxycodone and synthetic ones like heroin to self-medicate their anxiety or pain. Not only that, but women also tend to develop a dependence on opioids faster compared to men since dopamine response in a woman’s brain is immediate. On the other hand, men are most likely to misuse opioids and can overdose fatally as a result of this abuse. In a report submitted in 2016, 27 men died per day as a result of opioid overdose compared to women. 

During the first year of an opioid use disorder, women are more likely to have a fatal overdose. This may be caused by the continuous use of opioid prescriptions alternating it with heroin injections. However, women are more likely to survive than men who abuse heroin. Women who suffer from heroin use disorder usually start their habits at a young age, abuse heroin on small doses in a short span of time, and are less likely to participate in injection drug use. These types of women report doing the abuse due to pressure from their sexual partners or social circles. 


Men abuse marijuana more than women, this is a fact. According to studies, men are three times as likely to likely smoke marijuana when compared to women. The effects on both sexes are also different; for one, spatial memory impairment is greater in women while men exhibit greater euphoria. Both genders show equal rates of marijuana treatment admissions and both equally have an underlying mental health issue. However, men are most likely to have a co-occurring substance use disorder and antisocial personality disorder while women who abuse marijuana are most likely to suffer from anxiety disorders and panic attacks. 

Methamphetamine and Cocaine

Both men and women are more or less likely to abuse stimulants but according to reports, women are more prone to using these drugs at a younger age compared to men. They also tend to feel more cravings and fall into possible relapse due to changes in their body during hormone production and menstrual cycle. It is also suggested that estrogen plays a role in the effects of stimulants in the brain. Because of this, women tend to consume these in large amounts and develop an addiction faster than men. 

However, studies found out both genders who have been abusing this drug for a span of time show similar rates of impairments when it comes to learning, academic achievement, and concentration. In addition to that, men are likely to suffer from reduced blood flow to the brain because of this abuse. 

Cultural differences also affect the addiction between men and women. Men tend to abuse meth and cocaine as part of their pleasure while women abuse these drugs to stimulate more energy and for losing weight. It is also the men who tend to switch drugs if meth is not available for them to use. 


In terms of treatment, evidence has proven that women are able to complete their treatments in a short span of time and even seek guidance after their treatment is over. However, since addiction is a chronic illness, there is no guarantee that both genders can truly recover after each treatment or therapy which is why long-term therapy is needed. Aftercare programs can help provide them with the tools and skills they need to avoid relapse. 

So whether you are a man or a woman who is addicted to substances, it is best to receive treatment that is customized to meet your needs. With research-based and compassionate treatment, recovery is very possible.