How Women Experience Addiction

women and addiction

In health and wellness, there are stark differences between men and women. Similarly, this is also the case when it comes to women who are battling an addiction. Symptoms, sensitivity, and prevalence are all affected by gender. Here are some of the most common ways that your biology can influence substance use and addiction. 

Substance Abuse in Women

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports on the prevalence of substance use disorders and mental illnesses in the United States each year. The 2019 survey showed that 5.6% of female adults have a substance use disorder. Among those with an addiction, 40.8% used illicit drugs, 72.5% abused alcohol, and 13.3% used both drugs and alcohol. These numbers demonstrate how prevalent addiction is in women, despite how it may appear in society. Often, women are under-diagnosed because they fear the stigma and repercussions of a diagnosed substance use disorder. Early recognition and intervention are key to combating these effects.

Substance Use Disorder Risk Factors

There’s not a single cause for a substance use disorder, but there are risk factors that can make a woman more susceptible to developing an addiction. Some of the most prevalent contributing factors of addiction in women include:

  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Partner violence
  • Loneliness
  • Stress
  • Family history of substance use
  • Existing mental health issues

Research indicates that the more of these risk factors a person has, the higher the likelihood is that they will develop an addiction. The societal pressures put on women in regards to familial commitments, work responsibilities, and balancing life commitments increase stress that can result in substance abuse. Women are often expected to “keep it together”, so they may dismiss their own struggles in an effort to help others. 

Hormonal and Genetic Components of Addiction

The balance of hormones and the genetic makeup of women also makes women more susceptible to developing a substance use disorder. According to NIDA, sex hormones increase women’s sensitivity to the effects of certain drugs. Physiological differences in gender contribute to an increased risk of addiction as well. The female body has fewer stomach enzymes which slow down how the body processes drugs and alcohol. As a result, lower doses of the substance have a greater effect for a longer period of time. 

Addiction Telescoping Effects

While substance use disorders occur more frequently in men, research suggests that women can develop addictions more quickly. This is commonly referred to as telescoping. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), women experience substance use differently than men. Most notably, women respond more sensitively to drugs and alcohol. Smaller amounts of certain substances can more quickly lead to an addiction in women than in men. Simply put, if a woman begins using drugs, she is more likely to progress into a substance use disorder than her male counterpart consuming at the same rate. 

Help for Women Struggling with Addiction

As women, it’s natural to want to dismiss your struggles in favor of helping others. However, delaying treatment for a substance use disorder often results in a higher likelihood of relapse and a greater risk of long-term negative effects. At Augustine Recovery, we understand the unique challenges women managing an addiction face. Our gender-specific treatment ensures you have the support and understanding you need to heal from past hurts while developing skills to combat addictive behaviors. We also offer comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment to help you manage an existing mental illness alongside a substance use disorder. If you’re ready to prioritize your recovery today, contact our admissions team to learn more. 


Abasi, I., & Mohammadkhani, P. (2016). Family Risk Factors Among Women With Addiction-Related Problems: An Integrative Review. International journal of high risk behaviors & addiction, 5(2), e27071.

NIDA. 2022, May 4. Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use. Retrieved from 

NIDA. 2020, January 22. Substance Use in Women DrugFacts. Retrieved from 

SAMSHA. 2020. Survey on Drug Use and Health: Women Slides. Retrieved from