Alcohol and nicotine are widely used by millions of people around the world, both men and women. There have been plenty of different studies dealing with the abuse of these substances; however the subject hasn’t been viewed from the point of gender.
A woman's addiction to alcohol, pills and other narcotics has long been a wink-wink topic - one that garners a few smirks, rarely taken seriously. The focus has always been on men, who traditionally have had higher rates of substance abuse.
But now the gender gap is closing. More than 20 million girls and women in the United States abuse drugs and alcohol and 30 million more are addicted to cigarettes, according to a 10-year research effort from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University .
The study documents how women, pound-for-pound, not only get more drunk or higher faster then men, but also become addicted more easily. The research results are presented in a new book from CASA called "Women Under the Influence" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).
The numbers could get worse, warns Susan Foster, CASA's director of policy research and analysis, who directed the research behind the book.
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.
According to Foster, 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 same ratio applies to tobacco, livescience.com reports.
Another well-known health risk, that smokers who take oral contraceptives run an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, is stressed. Other key points include greater and faster dependence on nicotine among women; a greater risk of breast cancer the younger smoking begins; and more serious cardiac and respiratory diseases than those experienced by male smokers, according to dfw.com.
The risk of addiction to alcohol and drugs, including nicotine, is approximately doubled as well. The reason may be hormonal or psychological, according to ongoing research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 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.
Older women are less likely to seek help than younger women because of the shame and stigma attached to substance dependence and addiction.
"When it comes to chemical dependency, a lot of people go unreported because of the issue of denial," says Barry Kerner, physician in chief at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Conn., which specializes in psychiatric illnesses and addictive disorders, says twincities.com.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik