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  • Substance abuse does not discriminate based on gender; instead, both men and women abuse substances and experience the adverse effects.
  • And while women are just as likely as men to develop a substance use disorder, men are more likely to use and do drugs than women.
  • There are a few potential explanations for why: first, men are typically more likely to take risks, while women tend to consider risks and dangers.
  • Additionally, it’s possible that there is a stigma surrounding women and drinking or using drugs, which makes men more likely to use.
  • Finally, drugs and alcohol may be more readily available to men; in fact, many women gain access to substances through men.
  • If you think you might have a substance use problem, reach out for help—a counselor can help you manage the illness.

Substance abuse is a serious disease that plagues the lives of both men and women. It is characterized by problems controlling use of a substance (alcohol or drugs), failure to quit even when it affects important areas of life, and the development of cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal when use of the substance is reduced or halted abruptly.

While women are just as likely as men to develop a substance use disorder, men are more likely than women to drink alcohol and use drugs. Additionally, men are more likely to die from an overdose or wind up in the hospital due to excessive alcohol or drug use. The question is, why? Adina Mahalli—Master Social Worker, Certified Mental Health Expert, and Family Care Specialist—offers a few potential explanations:

1. Men are more likely to take risks.

First, men are typically bigger risk-takers. While women tend to weigh pros and cons as well as consider the risks of a potentially dangerous situation, men are more likely to jump in headfirst. “Psychologically speaking, men are more likely to turn to drugs and drinking due to the fact that they’re more likely to take risks. Women weigh up the risks that come with substance abuse, which may hold them back from drinking or doing drugs. Meanwhile, men are predisposed to engage in risk-taking behaviors that include substance abuse,” Mahalli explains.

2. Women are stigmatized.

It’s also possible that there is a stigma surrounding drinking (as well as doing drugs) for women. For example, some view it as “unladylike” to drink a beer. This might contribute to the fact that men are more likely to drink or do drugs compared with women. Mahalli explains further: “The stigma behind women taking drugs or drinking alcohol has a large part to play in the fact that men are more likely to drink and do drugs. This makes the phenomena more circumstantial than psychological. Women are less likely to get their hands on drugs and alcohol due to this stigma, which means they would often have to go out of their way to engage in substance abuse.

3. Drugs and alcohol are readily available to men.

Building off of the last point, drugs and alcohol may be more readily available to men than to women. As Mahalli explains, women often gain access through the men in their lives: “Interestingly, one of the factors which affect men’s likelihood to drink and do drugs is the availability of the substances. It’s not that men are more susceptible to substance abuse but rather culturally it is more readily available to them thanks to their peer groups and societal pressures. In fact, most teenage girls are only introduced to these substances through their male peers.”

If you have a substance abuse problem, the good news is that you can learn to manage it—and you don’t have to do it alone. You can find help and healing in counseling as well as support groups and treatment centers. But first, you must recognize that you have a problem. Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder and know when to ask for help.

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is a staff writer at Thriveworks. She devotes herself to distributing important information about mental health and wellbeing, writing mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. Taylor received her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism, with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book and has published content on Thought Catalog, Odyssey, and The Traveling Parent.

We wrote a "choose your own adventure" style book about depression. To help as many people as possible, we're selling it for what it costs to print ($6.80) on Amazon.com. Check it out: Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book

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