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How Does Addiction Affect Women?

How Does Addiction Affect Women? | Just Believe Recovery
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There are different factors that leave some more susceptible to addiction than others. Gender can be one of them. This is for the women out there, clean or still using. An addiction progressing differently for everyone. It can be an extremely lonely journey. Addiction can happen to women, too. It can happen at any age and at any time in life. The consequences of seeking help may be intimidating, but it is worth it. The life you have created for yourself or the life you want for yourself is worth it.

The Studies

Studies do, in fact, show there are differences in how men and women use substances, become addicted, relapse, and get clean. Until the early 1990s, most studies on addiction and recovery were focused on men. In the past, women were not included in most clinical research. This was often based on two notions. First, that women are more biologically complicated than men. Second, as they were considered as primary caregivers of young children, a woman had too many competing time demands to take part in research studies. It wasn’t until the government required federally funded studies to include women in the early 1990s.

According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), women are more likely than men to face multiple barriers to accessing substance abuse treatment and are less likely to seek treatment. Women are more likely to seek help in mental health or primary care settings rather than a rehab or addiction treatment programs. That, unfortunately, can leave women with a band-aid on the problem rather than looking deeper into their addiction and achieving long term sobriety.

Problems Women Face

Women face different challenges in life and in a life with an addiction. Women’s addictions tend to progress faster than men’s. They tend to progress quicker because of a phenomenon known as telescoping. Telescoping, in cognitive therapy, refers to the temporal displacement of an event where people perceive recent events as being more remote than they are and distant events as being more recent than they are. Women tend to develop medical and social consequences faster than men. Oftentimes, finding themselves deeper into their addiction than they thought. In some cases, the way a drug affects the brain in women can be different from how it affects men’s brain.

Pregnancy and Addiction

Along with an addiction comes those negative behaviors. Women with a drug or alcohol addiction leaves them more susceptible to a life of domestic violence, crime, rape, and diseases. Risky behaviors like unprotected sex is common among addicts and alcoholics. Being addicted and pregnant causes so many different types of problems.

There is so much guilt and shame that comes along with being pregnant and addicted. This can wreak havoc on the mother’s mental health. The harmful chemicals in alcohol, heroin, cocaine, meth, and other drugs can get to the baby. These chemicals can easily penetrate the placenta, harming the placenta itself. This can interrupt the exchange of nutrients and the elimination of waste. Drugs and alcohol can have devastating effects on the fetus.

  • Stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine can both cause high spikes in blood pressure. These drugs can cause low birth weights, sudden miscarriages, and possible lifelong mental health problems.
  • Heroin use during pregnancy can cause the baby to become addicted. Heroin can cause low birth weight, miscarriages, even stillborns.
  • MDMA and Ecstasy. There isn’t much research with these types of drugs, but we do know that exposure to these drugs may cause learning, memory, and motor problems with the baby.

When a mother uses while pregnant, the baby becomes addicted to that drug, as well. Drugs like heroin can cause neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS is when the fetus is exposed to the drug and becomes dependent. When a baby is born addicted to drugs they have to go through all the withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms of withdrawal in a newborn can begin immediately or up to 10 days later. These symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures
  • Sweating and trembling
  • Vomiting
  • Poor feeding habits
  • Diarrhea
  • Hyperactive reflexes

This is very painful and dangerous for a baby. It can even leave the baby more likely to use later in life.


During pregnancy, there are safe ways to get help for you and the baby. Choosing to go to rehab while pregnant there are benefits for both mother and baby. The decrease of the risk of causing more damage to the baby, the mother can get the prenatal care they need. Mother’s can also get help with any mental health issues. Rehab can provide the different types of help a mother-to-be may need.

If you are currently pregnant or already have children, custody issues may be something you have to face. However, for the health of you and your children getting help is the best, and only, option. With addiction there are negative consequences. While using we may lie and steal to get a fix. Addicts and alcoholics do it because addiction drives those behaviors.

If there are negative consequences you have to face to get help- they are worth it. Coming out of an addiction and working towards long-term sobriety is worth all the work that goes into it. When getting clean, you have the opportunity to work through the problems that lead into that addiction. You can become a happier and healthier person.

In recent years, it has become easier for women to get help for an alcohol or drug addiction. In 1991, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services established the Office on Women’s Health to ensure that research included all genders. Women are making strides in the right direction in a lot of ways. Despite the stigma, seeking help for an addiction is the strongest thing you can do.

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