How Does Opioid Addiction Affect Women?

Treating opioid addiction requires that treatment staff take into account gender differences when it comes to drug use. Opioid addiction, in particular, affects women different than it affects men. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 18 women die every day from prescription painkiller overdose and in 2010 there were more than 6,600 deaths. Men are more likely to die from prescription painkiller overdose, but the gap between men and women is quickly closing.
According to the CDC, “Deaths from prescription painkiller overdose among women have risen more sharply than among men; since 1999 the percentage increase in deaths was more than 400% among women compared to 265% in men.” The increase in death from prescription painkillers among women may be related to prescribing practices. A 2010 study in the American Journal of Public Health, entitled Age and Gender Trends in Long-Term Opioid Analgesic Use for Noncancer Patients, found that women were more likely than men to be prescribed opioids and received higher doses for a longer duration of time.
Aparna Mathur, in a 2018 Forbes article entitled Women, Economic Opportunity and Opioid Addiction, explains, “This is problematic because other research suggests that women progress from use to dependence far more quickly than men. About 13% of middle age women become newly persistent opioid users who continue to use opioids three to six months after surgery.” Women fall rapidly into the cycle of addiction and experience consequences from opioid use much quicker than men.
Ivana Rihter, in a 2018 Vogue article entitled It’s Time to Talk About the Opioid Crisis as a Women’s Health Issues, explains that the increased susceptibility of women to opioid addiction may arise from basic physiological differences: “Compared with men—taking into account variations in body size, fat-to-lean body-mass ratio, metabolic rate, and hormones—women tend to be more susceptible to opioid addiction.”
A 2011 study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, entitled Comparative Profiles of Men and Women with Opioid Dependence: Results from a National Multisite Effectiveness Trial, examined 892 treatment-seeking opioid-dependant adults screened to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Clinical Trials Network. The study found that women have more cravings for opioids, displayed more severe clinical profiles, were more likely than men to use opiates (other than heroin), barbiturates, sedative, and amphetamines. It’s important to take these differences into account in order to effectively give women the best possible chance at achieving and maintaining sobriety.

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