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Gender and Drug Abuse: Surprising Gender Differences in Addiction

Gender and Drug Abuse: Surprising Gender Differences in Addiction

Like the book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus suggests, there are some key differences between the two sexes beyond the obvious biological ones.

Many studies have discussed differences in thinking, relationships, and even brain structure, but the discrepancies do not end there. There are plenty of gender differences in substance use disorders as well.

Gender Differences in Addiction and Recovery

As an addiction treatment center in Dupage County, we work with both men and women on overcoming drug addictions. While the treatments and problems are often similar, there are also some slight gender differences in addiction worth noting.

Drug of Choice for Men & Women

On average men have been found to abuse illicit drugs more than women with 52.3% having abused some illicit drug in their lifetime as compared to 44.9% of women.1 Men are also more likely to be alcoholics than women. It was found that 4.5% of men met the criteria for alcohol dependence in the past year compared to only 2.5% of women.2 On the other hand, women have been found to abuse sedatives more than men. One study found that 0.5% of males had abused sedatives in the last year compared to 0.7% of females.

Drug Overdose By Gender

Not only do men tend to abuse drugs and develop substance abuse problems more frequently, but they also have a higher rate of drug overdoses. In 2017, over 40,000 men died of a drug overdose whereas only about 20,000 women died of a drug overdose.3 These numbers have only increased in the past decade for both genders.

Mental Health Issues

One of the biggest gender differences in substance use disorders involves the reason for drug abuse initially. It has been inferred that men often begin abusing drugs because of peer pressure but women typically turn to drugs to self-medicate. Mental health issues and drug or alcohol problems often go together, but women are more likely to suffer from a mental health disorder than men. The prevalence of any mental illness in women is 22.3% but for men, this number decreases to 15.1%.4 When this occurs, the person should seek out dual diagnosis treatment to tackle both issues.

No matter your gender or how you identify yourself, you do not have to live with your drug problem. Although there are gender differences in addiction, we offer men, women, and members of the LGBTQ community addiction treatment in Chicago that is designed with the specific needs of the individual in mind. Move forward with your life free from drugs and alcohol.

If you are ready to learn more for yourself or for a loved one, you can contact us today at 888-280-4763.


  1. SAMHSA - 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables
  2. CDC - Prevalence of Alcohol Dependence Among US Adult Drinkers, 2009–2011
  3. NIH - Overdose Death Rates
  4. NIH - Mental Illness
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Gender and Drug Abuse: Surprising Gender Differences in Addiction
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