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The Telescoping Effect

The Telescoping Effect

Addiction is a global problem that can happen to anyone.

But as universal as this condition is, its impact on men and women differ greatly, especially when it comes to the progression from initial drug or alcohol use to receiving treatment. This psychological phenomenon is known as telescoping. By better understanding what telescoping is, we can discover more about the gender differences in addiction and create more effective treatments for both men and women with addiction. 

Telescoping Definition

Substance use disorders or addictions occur when the recurrent use of drugs or alcohol causes significant impairment, such as health problems and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home. A person is addicted to drugs and alcohol when they feel the constant urge or desire to use them despite the obvious and severe repercussions on their life. 

Usually, people go through five stages of addiction:
  1. Experimentation with the substance
  2. Regular use of the substance 
  3. Risky use of the substance 
  4. Dependence and withdrawal
  5. Addiction

So, what does telescoping mean when it comes to addiction? Telescoping refers to the accelerated progression from the initial experimentation with drugs or alcohol to the chronic use of and dependence of these substances. This phenomenon is shown to have gender-related differences. 

Women who use opioids, alcohol, or cannabis show a more accelerated progression or telescoping effect than men.1 Once women enter a drug or alcohol treatment program, they may experience more severe physical, psychological, and social difficulties than men, even if their substance abuse was less severe compared with men. 

For example, one study published by the Medical University of South Carolina showed that it takes men nearly double the length of time to progress from drunkenness to addiction than women – 2.3 years versus 0.9 years, to be exact.2 Thus, a woman’s path to addiction is more compressed or telescoped than a man’s. 

Contributing Factors of Telescoping in Addiction

The telescoping effect has been observed and studied further in recent years to better understand why men and women are affected differently by drugs, alcohol, and addiction in general. Below are some possible contributing factors to telescoping: 
  • Co-occurring mental disorders: Co-occurring mood and anxiety disorders are more common among women compared to men. The presence of depression or anxiety may increase a woman’s likelihood of developing a substance use disorder. 
  • Biology: Hormones and chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are believed to contribute greatly to the onset of addiction. For instance, women may be more responsive to stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine during the follicular phase of menstruation, and women exposed to such drugs during this stage of their cycles are more likely to develop an addiction more rapidly. When it comes to alcohol consumption, women usually experience intoxication with less alcohol. This means a less severe form of heavy drinking may lead to addiction more quickly in a woman. 
  • Sociological differences: It’s also been found that women tend to use substances to self-medicate (hence the “wine mom” trend,) while men tend to engage in substance abuse to fit in with a group. Considering that stress and anxiety are common, the onset of addiction among women is arguably higher. 
  • Type of addiction: While men are more likely to use all types of illicit drugs compared to women, women seem to be more susceptible to the reinforcing or rewarding effects of drugs like cocaine and meth. Women are also more likely to experience severe drug withdrawals and cravings for both physical and psychological reasons. 

Some studies have shown that there isn’t any substantial proof to support telescoping in women with addictions. One 2017 study analyzed the origins of the framework of telescoping from as far back as 1952 and concluded that it might simply be wrong.3 

It found that early telescoping research was “gender-biased” and took a “masculine” approach to its research. The researchers of this study concluded that this “masculine” framework could have perpetuated gender bias and limited novel research that could result from women-focused research and practice.3 

Finding Addiction Treatment 

Despite the numerous reports on telescoping in people with addictions, one thing that remains true is that addiction affects everyone differently. From physical differences to the reasoning for drug use in the first place, everyone’s substance use disorder and recovery are unique to the individual. 

Considering this, our drug rehab in Naperville, IL, believes that addiction treatment should cater to these differences. At Banyan Treatment Centers, we offer various substance-specific treatment programs and levels of care for substance abuse treatment to help patients of every addiction find sobriety. 

No matter how long you’ve used drugs or alcohol, our specialists are ready to help you achieve a drug-free life. To learn more about the partial hospitalization treatment, therapy programs, and aftercare services offered at our Chicago drug and alcohol rehab, call Banyan today at 888-280-4763 to speak to a team member. 

Related Reading: 
The Transgender Addiction Correlation 

  1. NCBI - Substance Abuse in Women
  2. NIH - Telescoping of landmark events associated with drinking: a gender comparison
  3. NIH - The Telescoping Phenomenon: Origins in Gender Bias and Implications for Contemporary Scientific Inquiry
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.