Addiction and Young Women

Young women who become addicted to drugs face a unique set of challenges that can be difficult to overcome. In fact, according to the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network, “. . . women who are dependent on substances experience different barriers to treatment entry, engagement and retention than their male counterparts.”(1) This means that young women face specific difficulties both during active substance abuse and drug treatment stages that are not the same as difficulties faced by men. And because these differences include a higher propensity to become the victim of violence, rape and sexual assault, young women with addiction problems should seek help as soon as possible in order to mitigate these serious, life-threatening risks.

Young women use drugs for many different reasons, but it likely happens that their drug use is caused in part by the challenges they face simply because they are women. In Dr. Stephen R. Kandall’s book, Women and Addiction in the United States, he summarizes these reasons quite poignantly: “the use of drugs by women is due in large part to the stresses they face in society, such as minority status; reduced economic, social, and political expectations; and disproportionate suffering though physical and sexual abuse. For other, more advantaged women, hidden drug abuse may stem from manipulation by the advertising industry, inappropriate medication by physicians, or an attempt to cope with societal barriers to their own self-fulfillment.”(2)

Teens and young women who succumb to these stresses and use drugs then face the barriers to treatment and recovery mentioned earlier. This is evidenced by the fact that although 40% of all addicts are women, only 25% of individuals who seek professional addiction treatment are women. (3) This indicates that there is a large population of drug addicted women who never seek help for their problem. And because addiction is a progressive clinical disease that is fatal if left untreated, it’s likely that many of these women are completely lost to this condition.

Overall young women who become addicted to drugs are in more danger of violence than their male counterparts. This violence is generally instigated by a male who may or may not be a fellow drug user. Dangerous men may specifically target these women who are also at higher risk of engaging in promiscuity and prostitution. This lifestyle leaves women highly susceptible to contracting sexually transmitted diseases like herpes, HPV or even HIV as a result. Those who are lucky enough to stay disease free nevertheless live in a world dominated by men who degrade and mistreat them in many cases.

Because young women who are addicted to drugs are more likely to be sexually assaulted or partake in prostitution or promiscuity, pregnancy while abusing substances is a very real possibility. This can result in extreme difficulties in carrying a pregnancy to term, or in severe complications at birth that could place both the mother and baby’s lives at risk. Furthermore, even short-term drug use by young women can sometimes lead to reproductive harm that doesn’t always surface until after the fact.

If you or someone you care about is a young woman suffering from a drug problem, the risks are simply too great not to reach out for help. We are here 24 hours per day to offer you a free, confidential consultation. We can help to guide you and educate you about inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and other options to help you break from the cycle of substance abuse.

(1) Addiction Technology Transfer Center Women and Addiction
(2) Stephen R. Kandall, M.D. Women and Addiction in the United States – 1920 to the Present
(3) Cindy McAlpin Out of the Shadows: Women and Addiction GPSolo Magazine October/November 2006

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