While it is possible for men and women to become addicted to nearly any substance or process, the physiological differences between males and female can affect women’s susceptibility to addiction. When someone becomes addicted to any substance or process, certain changes have taken place in an addict’s body, which leads to tolerance and dependence. While tolerance is normally physical in nature, dependence can be both physical and psychological in nature. One of the key organs in the body where these changes occur is the brain. For both genders, addiction impacts dopamine release within the brain and dopamine release greatly affects the rewards and learning centers of brain.
Since women have more estrogen in their bodies, estrogen levels play a big part in how dopamine is released and changes the brain. Women are more likely to use and abuse addictive substances when they are feeling down, depressed, alone or anxious, and estrogen levels tend to be lower at these moments as well. By using and abusing drugs or other substances, dopamine is released which can help these women compensate for these feelings and fluctuating estrogen levels, as dopamine is one of the body’s natural “feel good” chemicals. Men on the other hand are more likely to abuse substances when they are on an emotional “high” in order to intensify these feelings of “feeling good.” In both cases, the release of dopamine occurs, and over time this re-wires the brain’s reward center so that the person will want to keep repeating the behavior to “feel better” and to continue to release dopamine. Women then are more susceptible to addiction and substance abuse when they are coping with feelings of depression or anxiety. Understanding this fundamental difference based on gender can help women have insight into understanding why they may feel more tempted to use and abuse certain substances based on what they are going through at the time. Even today, there is a great deal of stigma in our society that women with addictions face. Oftentimes, women with addictions suffer in shame and silence. We hope that spreading the knowledge that addiction is a hereditary, chronic, and incurable disease will give women the courage to reach out for help.
In addition to estrogen, a woman’s muscle to fat ratio affects the water content within their bodies which can result in certain substances, such as alcohol, having a more rapid effect on them and this also leads to both tolerance and dependence developing more rapidly within women than men since they have less water in their bodies to dilute the alcohol. Even on the cellular level, women metabolize alcohol differently than men.
The reasons why women turn to alcohol and other substances differs from the reasons why men turn to substance abuse, and these reasons can be impacted by the differences of estrogen and testosterone levels in female and male bodies. Also, due to the lower muscle to fat ratio of women, all of these gender differences can affect a woman’s susceptibility to addiction. While many addiction treatment centers utilize many of the same therapies to treat alcoholism and other addictions, research into the gender differences and how this affects each genders struggle with addiction, may lead to innovative new treatments for addiction in the future. While it remains tough for men and women to beat addiction, nearly anyone, regardless of whether they are a man or woman, can learn how to cope with and defeat their addictions when they receive guidance, education and support in an addiction treatment program. At the New Directions for Women facility we help women defeat their disease with a number of therapies and exercises which include; trauma therapy, experiential therapy, counseling and many more. We aim to not only help our patients recover but to teach them how to stay healthy. We provide after care and a follow up service that caters to each woman’s specific needs and connects them to a large network of women who have completed our program.
New Directions for Women offers the same option to women, children and families who desire a similar result. Know someone who needs treatment (even if they are not a female)? Contact us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or simply by phone at 800-939-6636. We can help.