Addiction in Women

Addiction affects people differently depending on circumstances that include the environment, mental health, physical shape and other factors. However, gender also affects how addiction can alter one’s body and life. Even in co-ed facilities such as Casa Palmera, it is important to understand these differences to properly treat men and women. Understanding addiction in women can provide insight into how to approach addiction treatment based on different needs. 

Factors that Lead Women to Addiction

As mentioned above, there are many reasons why women develop an addiction, which can be different from why men develop addictions. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, women have said they use substances for the following reasons:

  • Control weight
  • Fight fatigue
  • Cope with physical or emotional pain
  • Self-medicate a mental health disorder

Aside from physical differences, women have cultural differences to face compared to men. Typically, women are looked at as the main person raising the children, the person who does more of the household chores, or unfortunately, who takes the brunt of domestic abuse if they are involved in a violent relationship. These pressures and stressors can be reasons enough for some women to turn to unhealthy habits in order to cope.

The Effects of Addiction on Women

Substance use disorder has numerous side effects and consequences. However, use can affect men and women physically, mentally and environmentally in different ways. 

Biological factors play a role in how drugs and alcohol affect women’s bodies. Women typically weigh less than men, have more fatty tissue and have less water within their bodily systems. Water dilutes alcohol, meaning the smaller amount of water in women leads to easier intoxication. Alcohol will stay in women’s systems longer due to fatty tissue retaining alcohol. Women also have lower liver enzymes levels, meaning the liver cannot break down the alcohol as quickly. The alcohol then enters the bloodstream and stays in the body longer.

Women have a higher likelihood of overdosing on drugs because of a lesser body mass than men. The number of drugs that it would take for a woman to overdose and die may not be harmful to a man. Overdoses in women are more likely to create long-term health problems. Organ damage and failure from drugs are more likely to occur. This damage can cause a higher risk of kidney problems, liver disease, damage to the intestines, heart failure, certain types of cancers and other health problems.

Substance use poses a danger to pregnant women, too. Women may be using alcohol or drugs while pregnant or unknowingly pregnant. Substance use can cause complications, including congenital disabilities in the fetus.

Women also have a higher risk of having a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety. Mental illnesses are more likely to lead to substance use, which can then develop into an addiction. There have also been connections found between addiction and eating disorders. Drugs that help stimulate weight loss may be attractive to women who wish to suppress their appetites. 

Gender-Specific Treatment for Women

Due to specific social, biological and mental factors, women may need a different treatment approach than men. Women often develop an addiction to substances quicker, in a shorter amount of time and with smaller amounts. Withdrawal can also be more painful and uncomfortable for women than men. 

In recovery circles, it is important to discuss specific fears and concerns the patients may have. For example, women can get pregnant and such a topic would be beneficial to discuss, especially because women may not open up about using drugs or alcohol while pregnant due to legal stipulations. Addressing things like pregnancy can be useful in settings dedicated specifically to women in recovery.


At Casa Palmera we understand the differences addiction plays in the lives of men and women. We implement specific treatment approaches tailored to our patients’ experiences and challenges in addiction recovery. While we aren’t a gender-specific program, we want to understand the specifics of addiction in how it affects women and men differently. It is crucial to address these differences in treatment. If you have any questions regarding addiction in women and what treatment for women looks like, contact us today. We are here to help you heal and find happiness in recovery.



This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.