How Does Opioid Addiction Differ for Men and Women?

When people are attempting to recover from opioid dependency, it should never be viewed as a “one size fits all” process. This principle is specifically prevalent when it comes to helping men and women during the recovery process.

They say men are from Mars, and women are from Venus. A lot of the time, it seems like a cliché or oversimplification. Still, such generalizations stem from the truth. woman wearing teal dress sitting on chair talking to manEach gender needs to be treated with unique styles and methods catered towards their respective inclinations. After all, men and women deal with an array of psychological, biological, and social differences. As such, both genders experience the world around them in very divergent ways—from the way they dress, to how they interact, speak, and act. For instance, women may deal with additional hurdles of pregnancy or childcare.Both genders abuse opioid drugs in their own way, while their bodies also react differently.Read more, as we take a deep dive into this subject:

How do Women Experience Opioid Addiction?

One challenge faced by women that can lead to a heavy reliance on opioids is the fact that they experience chronic pain at a higher rate than men, or at least they seem to share their chronic pain with their doctor more frequently. On top of that, statistics show that women misuse synthetic opioids (e.g., heroin) and prescription opioids (e.g., oxycodone) to deal with that pain as well as anxiety. Plus, there’s research indicating that women are sometimes more susceptible to opioid dependency than men because their brain’s dopamine response is more intense.depressed woman on dock 

Further studies have shown that women who use drugs regularly experience issues related to hormones, menstrual cycle, fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause. Then there’s the matter of females being more vulnerable to physical effects on their heart and blood vessels.

When it comes to prescription opioid abuse for women, there were 7,109 related deaths in 2016 alone.

While women don’t use opioids as prolifically as men and don’t fatally overdose as much, there is still considerable abuse. In fact, between 1999 and 2016, the rate of opioid-related deaths among women increased by 596%.

One distinction of heroin-dependent women is that they will abuse smaller doses for a shorter time compared to men.

Collectively, women inject drugs at a lower rate than men. Though they are more prone to relapses.

Before discussing men, here are a few other social factors contributing to females abusing opioids:

• Domestic violence victims are at increased risk of substance use and abuse

• Factors such as divorce, loss of child custody, or the death of a partner or child can act as catalysts for women to start relying on opioids

How do Men Experience Opioid Addiction?

Overall, opioid abuse is more of a threat to men than it is to women, as they become dependent at a much higher rate. Therefore, it’s much likelier for a man to be taken to the emergency room for overdose.

Male heroin users, as a whole, will use more significant amounts for an extended time and inject opioids more than women. As such, a larger number of men die from opioid-related addictions, annually.

man with hands covering mouth

Since men appear to not discuss issues with pain as readily as women, it can lead to a greater abundance of opioid abuse.

In 2016, 27 men per day died from prescription overdoses—while 19 women per day died of the same cause that year. This amounts to 9,978 male deaths. It should be noted that from 1999 to 2016, there has been less of a climb in opioid abuse-related deaths for men than women, as males have seen an increase of 312% in that time frame.

Still, despite the above rate being eclipsed by women, men are at a higher risk of death from opioid addiction.

Understanding Gender Differences is Crucial to Opiate Addiction Treatments

For rehab programs to accomplish their goal of healing, those responsible for administering the treatments must grasp the differences of both genders.

male and female signage on wall

There are risks and factors unique to each sex that can’t be overlooked. There must be a commitment to research on this matter, and a desire to understand the differences between sexes. Only then will rehab and recovery programs for opioid addiction see a continual rise in success.

About the Author

Paula Nicola, M.D.
Dr. Nicola is the Facility Director at Renu. She is a trained and board certified medical doctor with specialized training in addiction medicine.

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