Have women fallen into the insidious trap of alcohol and drug use? Recent studies on the prevalence of alcohol and drug use among women worldwide tend to show an increase in their consumption of both. Social pressure, post-traumatic stress – the reasons for the increase seem to be on the rise as women are caught in the spiral of addiction.
In its 2018 World Drug Report , the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime outlines several findings on women’s use of drugs, including the comparable, if not higher prevalence of the non-medical use of opioids and tranquilizers among women as compared to men. The report also indicates that women begin using drugs and alcohol later than men and tend to increase their consumption of alcohol, cocaine and opioids more quickly, which may lead them to develop drug use disorders more rapidly.
Based on the results of several international studies, the report shows that drug use disorders are not the same in men and women. In men, they include attention deficit, hyperactivity, personality disorders, and problems with social relations. Women with drug and alcohol use disorders are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
There is a clear difference between men and women in this respect. The report provides some insight into this distinction by addressing the issue of gender differences in society.
The Social Factor
Several factors need to be taken into account when attempting to understand differences in drug and alcohol use between men and women. The social factor is among the most important of these because it defines a person’s place in a given society. The role of women in society differs according to geographic region and culture. Findings indicate that women in Western countries use more non-medical tranquilizers than men. One reason could be that a higher proportion of women use drugs because of stress experienced in their social environment, at work, in their family or with their partner. Anxiety disorders are diagnosed much more frequently in women than in men. A study conducted in the United States in 1997 showed that 30 to 60% of women who had a drug use disorder suffered from post-traumatic shock.
The Link Between Work and Substance Use
There is a new phenomenon in Western societies that is particularly predominant among women who lead an active professional life as well as a busy personal and family life. The social pressure exerted on these women may lead them to use alcohol and drugs as a means of taking their mind off their busy schedule. More and more upwardly mobile senior executives resort to using legal or illegal substances to deal with pressure at work.
According to doctors who treat this new type of patient, the most commonly used drugs are benzodiazepines (highly addictive drugs with serious secondary effects), codeine-based medication (pain killers that provide a sense of relief) and muscle relaxants. These patients also consume alcohol on a regular basis and use cocaine and cannabis. In the United States, 650,000 prescriptions for opioids or opioid derivatives are handed out every day!
There is a trend towards heavy alcohol consumption among educated, middle- and upper-class women. According to a 2016 OECD report, these women are twice as likely to engage in excessive alcohol and drug consumption. According to statistical studies conducted in Québec, 65 % of women indicated they consumed alcohol on a regular basis.
Based on these findings, it is possible to sketch the outlines of an issue that appears to be affecting women more and more. Alcohol and drugs work their way into these women’s lives as a means of relieving very real pressure; the question for them now is how to escape the trap of substance use…
 8 Najavits, Weiss and Shaw, “The link between substance abuse and posttraumatic stress disorder in women”.