3 Reasons Why Women Are More Prone to Substance Abuse

3 Reasons Why Women Are More Prone to Substance Abuse

By: Cumberland Heights

two women enjoying life in recoveryWhen it comes to substance use, it’s clear that men and women have different tolerances. Body mass, weight and much more often have an effect on how much and how often men are able to consume compared to women, but are there other factors that play a part?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), men are more likely than women to use all kinds of illicit drugs – so what makes women more susceptible to becoming addicted to them? Research is showing us different clues that we weren’t expecting – let’s take a look at them.


U.S. News highlighted just last year the following factors that are placing women at higher risk for addiction:

  1. Mental illnesswomen have been found to report higher levels of depression and anxiety than men, and previous studies have shown us just how closely linked mental illness and addiction truly are. Many people with mental illness find themselves abusing substance as an attempt to self-medicate, which places women at an overall higher risk
  2. Greater susceptibility to marijuana – a study from Washington University concluded that estrogen levels may make women more susceptible to the pain-relief that drugs like marijuana enact, which could lead to other substances being abused; researchers are wondering whether marijuana could be a gateway drug for many women
  3. More incidents of trauma, discrimination and stress – it’s been reported that half of all women have or will experience some form of trauma during their lifetime and research has proven that trauma is correlated with substance abuse

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research reviewed the stages of addiction and how women experience each stage. These are the stages and what they reported:

  1. Stage 1: Acquisition – women may experience more pleasurable responses to drugs than men and are more likely to self-medicate; men have been shown to use drugs to socialize and engage in group processes more so than women
  2. Stage 2: Escalation – drug addiction is rapidly progressive for women than men
  3. Stage 3: Maintenance – men stabilize at lower doses than women
  4. Stage 4: Withdrawal – for women who smoke cigarettes, the withdrawal effects are often more severe than for men who smoke; men experience greater withdrawal symptoms from alcohol than women do, however
  5. Stage 5: Relapse – men to do have longer abstinence periods than women when it comes to relapse

Even though men and women experience addiction at different paces, it nonetheless doesn’t discriminate. Addiction can affect anyone and everyone – which is why seeking help is so incredibly important.


Cumberland Heights is a nonprofit alcohol and drug-addiction treatment center located on the banks of the Cumberland river in Nashville, Tennessee. On a sprawling 177-acre campus, we are made up of 2 12-Step immersion campuses, 12 outpatient recovery centers and 4 sober living homes. We believe that each person has a unique story to tell – and that’s why we always put the patient first.

Call us today at 1-800-646-9998 to take the next step towards your happiness and health.

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