Substance Abuse and SUD in Women

Substance Abuse is a big issue in the United States.  Substance Use Disorders or SUD prey upon all genders while men are more likely to fall victim, women are equally open to addiction and equally fall at rates  to SUD approximately to men.  Women, however, fall victim to addiction for varying reason and unfortunately treatments are sometimes only tailored to men.  Women also need a special treatment that reviews their gender and gender needs in regards to SUD.

Women face their own unique challenges with Substance Abuse and need treatment based on those unique gender needs


The article, “How substance use disorders affect women differently” by Sarah Handzel looks closer at the needs of women regarding addiction counseling and recovery.  She lists unique social and personal issues that affect women, as well as neurobiological.  One issue in particular is treatment.  Handzel laments the fact that many treatment plans fit one but not all, especially in the case of women.  She states,

“Unfortunately, a one-size-fits-all approach to substance abuse treatment is still relatively common, according to the NIDA research. While women typically have a shorter history of substance use, they are more likely to enter treatment with concurrent behavioral, medical, psychological, and sociocultural issues.”

“How substance use disorders affect women differently”. Sarah Handzel. December 7th, 2022. MDLinx

To read the entire article, please click here


Substance Abuse Disorders can be caused by a multitude of reasons.  Whether it is past trauma, poor coping, or teenage access, substance abuse can affect all genders.  Help is critical for many to find true permanent recovery.  Women in particular need their own special recovery plan that meets their particular needs.

Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder is a condition characterized by the frequent and recurrent use of substances in a manner that produces maladaptive impairments in functioning across multiple contexts. It encompasses a wide range of conditions, such as substance intoxication, substance withdrawal, and substance dependence. The etiology of this disorder is multi-factorial, with individual predisposition to misuse being a key contributing factor.  This disorder has been classified into three distinct subtypes: mild, moderate and severe.

Substance abuse is an issue that has long been studied in relation to gender, with the aim of understanding how gender-specific factors may be influencing the prevalence and types of substances abused. It has been suggested that biological and hormonal differences between genders can make certain individuals more susceptible to drug use and addiction. Furthermore, social differences such as family dynamics, economic opportunities, sense of identity, and access to resources have also been found to be influential in the development of substance misuse among different genders.

Substance use disorder (SUD) has been identified as a significant public health concern among women. Research indicates that SUD disproportionately affects female gender populations. The biological and psychosocial factors associated with SUD in women are complex and multifaceted, and have been hypothesized to include genetic predisposition, environmental exposure, and socio-cultural influences. Additionally, the concept of gender-based vulnerability has been proposed to explain the higher prevalence of SUD among women.

Substance abuse amongst women is a complex issue that can be attributed to multiple factors. The underlying causes for substance abuse in women typically involve psychological, physiological and socio-cultural influences. Psychological factors include stress, trauma, family history of substance abuse, depression and anxiety. Physiological factors may include the potential for genetic predisposition or underlying medical conditions that may increase vulnerability to substance use disorders.
The influence of gender-based pressures on women has been linked to an increased incidence of substance abuse. Specifically, existing research suggests that gender inequality creates a heightened societal stressor for female individuals, which in turn may foster the emergence of maladaptive behaviors such as substance use. This is thought to be due to the fact that women are exposed to more environmental obstacles than men, such as unequal access to resources and higher levels of discrimination, resulting in psychological distress and emotional instability.
Treatment for Women with SUD

Substance abuse treatment is a multifaceted, multidisciplinary approach that involves the use of evidence-based therapeutic interventions to reduce or eliminate maladaptive substance-related behaviors. The process typically includes an evaluation of the individual’s psychological, social, and physical well-being; identification of problematic patterns of behavior; implementation of appropriate psychotherapeutic techniques; and monitoring for relapse prevention.

Substance abuse treatment for women is a critical area of focus, given the unique needs and challenges that this particular demographic faces. The gender-specific model of treatment seeks to address the underlying issues such as social norms, expectations, and experiences that contribute to substance use among female populations. It is holistic in nature, encompassing aspects such as psychological evaluation and counseling, medical management, self-care strategies, relapse prevention planning, and family systems therapy.

When treatment is designed more for the male population and not focused to meet these unique needs of women facing addiction, then success becomes limited in helping women find the help they need.


In conclusion, gender is a significant factor when considering substance abuse. Men and women differ in their usage, motivations, and consequences of drug and alcohol use. Men are more likely to engage in risky, hazardous behaviors while women are more likely to suffer from physical and mental health issues due to addiction. It is important to understand the differences between genders when looking into substance abuse treatment and prevention methods. All genders should be provided with information and support they need to make healthy decisions related to drugs or alcohol.

It is important in substance abuse treatment to meet the social and personal needs women face. Please also review AIHCP’s Certification Program in Substance Abuse Counseling


Substance abuse treatment for women is essential to the health and wellbeing of the individual. Women often feel isolated, ashamed and fearful when it comes to seeking help, but with the right resources and support network in place, substance abuse treatment can be successful. It is important to understand that everyone’s journey is different and everyone needs a different path to recovery. Treatment should be tailored to each individual woman’s needs and that also includes family members as part of the healing process.

Please also review AIHCP’s Substance Abuse Counseling Program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.  The program is designed to help qualified professionals become better equipped to help others deal with addiction.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals.  Please review AIHCP’s Substance Abuse Counseling Certification and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.


Additional Resources

“How Women Experience Addiction Differently Than Men”. Lipi Roy, MD. Forbes.  Access here

“Women and Addiction: An Update”. Nassima Ait-Daoud, etc. al. 2019 Jul;103(4):699-711.  National Library of Medicine.  Access here

“Women, Do We Need an Intervention?”. Ericka Andersen. April 3rd, 2022. New York Times. Access here

“Women Have Special Needs in Substance Abuse Treatment”. Promises Behavioral Health. May 26th, 2010. Promises Behavioral Health. Access here