Men have traditionally had higher rates of substance abuse, but now the gender gap is closing. An article from Live Science.com says that Women Get Drunk, High and Addicted Easier Than Men. According to a 10-year research effort from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, more than 20 million girls and women in the United States abuse drugs and alcohol and 30 million more are addicted to cigarettes. The study shows how women, measured on a pound-for-pound basis, not only get more drunk or higher faster then men, but also become addicted more easily.
Teenage girls now smoke, drink and abuse drugs as often as teenage boys. For certain drugs, such as prescription painkillers, the abuse rate is higher in girls than boys. Yet even as the rate of abuse becomes equal, physiological and psychological factors combine to ensure that females are more greatly affected by drugs and alcohol.
Susan Foster, CASA’s director of policy research and analysis, (who directed the research behind the book) explains that each single drink hits a woman like a double. A woman’s body contains less water and more fatty tissue—which increases alcohol absorption—compared to a male body. And women have a lower activity level of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), which breaks down alcohol. Similar biological factors are at work in metabolizing illicit drugs. The research results are presented in a book from CASA called “Women Under the Influence” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).
Ongoing research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that males and females abuse drugs for different reasons. For example, teenage girls are more likely than boys to abuse substances in order to lose weight, relieve stress or boredom, improve their mood, reduce sexual inhibitions, self-medicate depression, and increase confidence, according to CASA.
CASA president Joseph Califano said that drug-treatment programs have long had a male-dominated, one-size-fits-all focus and need to better embrace women and their needs. More than 90 percent of American women in need of treatment don’t get it, he said.