Learn / How Does Addiction Affect Women?

How Does Addiction Affect Women?

Hannah Friedman
 April 28th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • Women face unique challenges in addiction due to physiological and societal factors.
  • They're more prone to certain types of addiction, like alcohol and prescription drugs.
  • Women-only rehab can be a safe space for women to address underlying trauma.

Women healing from addiction and mental health conditions face distinct risks and challenges. Your sex and gender can impact the way your body responds to substances. While we need more data about people of many genders, we know that women often use drugs for different reasons than men. Women also face unique cultural pressures that can make addiction more likely. Women-only rehabs offer a safe space for women to work through these challenges. 

The Relationship Between Gender and Addiction

It’s important to note that most addiction research to date focuses on men and women. We need more data about the impacts of addiction on people of all genders. However, it can still be helpful to learn about how addiction affects different genders differently. 

Physiology and Addiction

Some physiological factors uniquely impact people assigned female at birth, whatever their gender. For example, many people with bodies assigned female at birth have a lower total percentage of body water1 than those assigned male at birth. This means it takes less alcohol for them to feel just as intoxicated. 

It’s also possible that men and women respond to substances differently. Experts report, “a number of studies have suggested that, relative to men, women may have an accelerated course of substance use,2 progressing more rapidly from initiation of substance use to problems with substances, and from problems with substances to treatment-seeking.”

Societal Challenges for Women

Women face certain social pressures, whether or not they were assigned female at birth. For example, data shows that both trans and cis women have higher rates of eating disorders3 than cis men. 

People of all genders feel shame about addiction.4 But these difficult emotions are stronger in women, especially those with children. Women are also more likely to feel a sense of stigma around addiction. And that, even more than the feeling of guilt, can be a barrier to treatment.

Women’s reasons for using drugs5 are also different from men’s. Men usually drink and use drugs for fun or to take risks. Women, on the other hand, use substances to regulate their mood, reduce stress, and find relief from difficult life experiences. If you’re using drugs to cope with your life, it’s easy to develop addiction. What’s more, data shows that women become addicted more quickly than men. 

What Types of Addiction Are Women Prone To?

While men are more likely to abuse substances6 in the first place, women are more prone to some types of  addiction. Women are also at a higher risk for certain mental health conditions. 


Because they typically weigh less than men, it takes less alcohol for women to become intoxicated.7 Most women also have lower levels of the digestive enzymes that break down alcohol. 

This means that drinking exposes women’s bodies to higher concentrations of alcohol. And that exposure lasts longer for women than it does for men. These factors make women more vulnerable to alcohol addiction. 

Prescription Drugs

Women are more likely to experience chronic pain8 than men. This may be part of the reason why women are more likely to misuse prescription opioids. And due to their brain chemistry, women develop opioid addiction much faster than men.


Gambling addiction is commonly a way to cope with anxiety, loneliness, or boredom.9 While men are more likely to develop an addiction to gambling than women, that gender gap is closing.10 Women also face more barriers to treatment for gambling addiction. They may feel more shame about their behavior, or worry about whether it’s safe to get treatment in a mixed-gender setting.

Eating Disorders

The relationship between gender and eating disorders11 is a complicated one. Many women develop these conditions due to societal pressures about their appearance. According to one study, “girls or women are more likely than boys or men to report weight dissatisfaction, dieting for weight control, and use of purging.” 

Co-Occurring Disorders

When you have a mental health condition and addiction, you can look for a rehab that treats co-occurring disorders. Women are especially vulnerable to certain diagnoses. For example, almost twice as many women experience depression12 as men. People with depression are more likely to use substances,13 and people who use substances are more likely to be depressed. Without treatment, this can easily become a spiral.

Many women also use substances to cope with trauma. Data shows that as many as 59% of women with addiction also have PTSD.14 When drug use masks your mental health symptoms, it might feel like a coping strategy. But if you’re already vulnerable to addiction, that behavior can easily get out of control. 

Explore Women only Treatment Centers

Women and Relapse

It’s widely believed that women are more likely to relapse than men. However, there are studies with conflicting findings. Some say that women are more likely to relapse, while others have found the opposite to be true. In all, experts report “few gender differences in rates of post-treatment relapse15 to alcohol use, although the evidence is mixed in regard to relapse to drug use.”

Certain factors contribute to women’s relapse rates:

Supportive Treatment for Women With Addiction

Gender-specific treatment can make a huge difference in your healing journey. In women-only rehabs, your gender stops being a barrier to treatment. Instead, it can inform your specific goals for addiction recovery.

Women-Only Support Groups and Therapy

Some women find it difficult to share their feelings in mixed-gender groups.19 Perhaps you’ve experienced trauma that makes it hard to trust men. In addition, men tend to dominate conversations with women, even unintentionally. In rehab, women-only support groups and group therapy invite you to open up in a protected space. 

Some mixed-gender rehabs have women’s groups, and other programs only treat women. For Andrea, a client at Georgia Strait Women’s Clinic, attending women-only rehab was the key to recovery. “An all women’s program allowed for a safe environment for group work and other activities,” she explains.

Trauma-Informed Therapy for Women

Most women with addiction have a history of sexual assault,20 physical abuse, or both. Trauma-informed care helps clients explore the complex impacts of trauma. It also provides a safe, supportive environment for healing.

Kristi P., who attended the women-only rehab Awakenings by the Sea, says this of her experience: 

“I needed a safe place of refuge to escape my life and the chaos I was going through…I found women who were searching to heal from trauma the way I was searching.”

Relapse Prevention

For women, the risk of relapse is tied to societal pressures.21 Experts describe 4 themes among women who relapse: 

  1. A low sense of self-worth, especially in the context of romantic partnerships
  2. Negative feelings and conflict in relationships
  3. The inability to build a new, sober support network
  4. Little knowledge about drugs, alcohol, and relapse prevention skills

This data suggests that women can benefit from rehabs with a strong focus on relapse prevention. These programs can help you make a long term recovery plan that accounts for your specific risk factors. For example, your plan might include family therapy to help you improve close relationships.

Gender-Specific Treatment Options for Women

Women face unique risks and challenges when healing from addiction. The good news is that there are a myriad of ways to get the support you need. Gender-specific treatment can help you explore the root cause of your addiction, and empower you to start recovery.

No matter your sex or gender, you deserve care that meets your unique needs. Explore rehabs for women including centers with trauma-informed care, relapse prevention, and more.

Frequently Asked Questions About Women and Addiction

How does addiction affect women differently than men?

Addiction can affect women differently than men due to biological, psychological, and social factors. Women may experience more intense cravings and faster progression of addiction, have a higher risk of relapse, and may face greater stigma and social isolation. Women also tend to have more complex mental health needs, such as anxiety and depression, which can contribute to addiction.

What are the unique challenges women in addiction recovery face?

Women in recovery may face gender-specific issues, such as pregnancy, childcare responsibilities, or financial dependence on a partner. Women are likelier to have experienced trauma, such as sexual abuse or domestic violence, which can complicate recovery. Other challenges include lack of access to treatment, societal stigma, and shame associated with addiction.

What treatment options are available for women with addiction?

Treatment options for women with addiction include inpatient and outpatient rehab programs, behavioral therapies, medication-assisted treatment, and support groups. Treatment may also address co-occurring mental health conditions like anxiety or depression. It’s important for women to receive treatment that addresses their unique needs and challenges in recovery.

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