5 myths about women and addiction

4 tips to stay sober during the holidays

Although many women experience the challenges associated with an addiction, there are several common misconceptions about this process. For women to get the quality help they need, they must to be aware of these prevalent myths. So, what are some myths associated with women and addiction?


To better understand women and addiction, we need to start by knowing what addiction is. With prolonged use of alcohol or drugs, an individual can develop a tolerance for these substances. Generally, we define addiction as occurring when the person in question cannot stop using the substance without experiencing bothersome withdrawal symptoms. They may also require larger amounts of the substance to experience the same pleasurable feelings.


There are many common myths surrounding women and addiction. The following list touches on several of these misconceptions.


This used to be true, but the gender gap is closing. Although there a multiple reasons why this gap is closing the facts remain the same. Men tend to start using drugs earlier and more often than women, both genders, once introduced, are equally likely to continue using. Women are one of the fastest-growing segments of drug users in the U.S. An estimated 4.5 million women have a substance use disorder, 3.5 million misuse prescription drugs, and 3.1 million regularly use illicit drugs. This costs more than 200,000 women their lives each year. 


Women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression as men, and women with anxiety or depression are likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol as a way to manage intolerable feelings. 

Stress is known to trigger substance abuse among both men and women, but research shows women may be more disposed to the harmful effects of stress and addiction than men. Both men and women struggle with drug cravings, but men’s brains tend to crave drugs when presented with drug-related cues, whereas women’s brains respond to psychological stress cues. 

Women are exposed more often to certain types of trauma that can fuel drug abuse. For example, interpersonal violence can play a significant role in how and why women fall into addiction. A history of violent trauma is more common among women with drug addiction, placing them at high risk for post-traumatic stress disorder. Women also tend to have more exposure to incest, sexual abuse, and family violence, and are often more vulnerable than men to physical attacks. 

Hormonal influences also uniquely impact women through all stages of life, possibly making them more vulnerable to certain addictions. A recent study found that estrogen can increase the possibility that females will start—and continue—to use cocaine. Researchers found that women transition faster to cocaine addiction and have more difficulty abstaining from the drug. Another study found that menstrual cycle-dependent fluctuations can impact drug cravings in females. 

Women also face unique social pressures and influences. The marketing of alcohol to women and the “mommy needs wine” mentality of social media have likely contributed to addiction problems. Popular Facebook groups like “Moms Who Need Wine” have tens of thousands of fans. One company calls wine “Mommy Juice.” Drinking is celebrated with memes and photos of cocktails as a way to cope with the stress of motherhood.

3. The stigma of addiction affects men and women The Same 

Men and women are both harshly judged for having an addiction, but addicted women can face even greater stigma, which keeps many from getting the help they need. Women take on many roles and responsibilities, often including the role of primary caregiver of children, which can add another layer of shame and judgment. Pregnant addicts face the greatest stigma: One study showed that 25 percent of pregnant women with an opioid addiction were untreated, and researchers believe stigma was part of the barrier to them receiving help. 

4. Substance abuse impacts women the same as men

Studies show that women get addicted to drugs more quickly and experience an accelerated rate of dependence. This progression has specifically been observed for opioids, cannabis, and alcohol. By the time women enter treatment, they are often facing more medical, behavioral, psychological, and social difficulties, even though they typically have used less of the substance and were exposed to it for a shorter period of time than their counterparts. 

5. Women are more likely to get help for their addiction

In fact, women face a number of unique barriers to drug and alcohol addiction treatment, including family responsibilities, financial limitations, transportation issues, and stigma. Possibly as a result of these barriers, research shows that women are less likely to receive adequate substance abuse treatment or to seek the specialized care they need. In 2011, women accounted for just 33 percent of admissions to drug rehab centers, for example.

Many women feel more comfortable in a women-only rehab center, where treatment is tailored to their unique needs and they can share sensitive feelings and experiences without the presence of men. Essential components of treatment can include focused support for working through issues of rape, child abuse, spousal violence, and other forms of trauma, as well as comprehensive treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders.

6. Men and women relapse at similar rates and for similar reasons

The good news is that women who receive substance abuse treatment fare very well. They relapse less often than men, perhaps because they’re more willing to ask for help, make needed changes, and utilize therapy for emotional support, and are more likely than men to remain abstinent over time. 

When women do relapse, it’s often for different reasons than men. Negative feelings and relationship problems most often prompt a return to drug use for women, while men tend to relapse in response to positive experiences that make them let their guard down or feel entitled to indulge their cravings.

Woman showing shame about her addiction.

All of these misconceptions keep women stuck in a cycle of shame and addiction. But with a greater investment in gender-sensitive research in recent years and more treatment centers offering specialized programs tailored to their needs, we understand better than ever how to support women on their path to recovery.


Reliable treatment centers exist that want to see you succeed in your fight against addiction. Furthermore, finding appropriate womens addiction treatment does not need to be overwhelming. Begin by talking about your problems and how they have affected your family. Openly discuss the goals you would like to accomplish in the future. Meet with a variety of rehab centers to find the one that suits your needs in the best way.

The connection between women and addiction is complex. However, don’t let an untreated addiction keep you from reaching your full potential. You can overcome addiction issues with the help of a caring rehab center. Call 866-314-3222 to discover how San Diego Sober Living can help you achieve your recovery goals.

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