New NIDA Online Resource Examines Substance Abuse From a Woman's Perspective

By John Lavitt 08/04/15

Substance Use in Women addresses biological and culture issues faced by female substance abusers.


The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has introduced a new online resource that is designed to address the unique issues that women face in regards to substance use. Titled Substance Use in Women, the site addresses issues involving biological and cultural differences faced by women substance abusers. The biological issues outlined are defined through sex differences and the cultural issues are defined through gender. 

Illuminating the categorizations, Substance Use in Women states, “Sex differences result from biology, or being genetically female or male, while gender differences are based on culturally defined roles for men and women, as well as those who feel uncomfortable identifying with either category; such roles influence how people perceive themselves and how they interact with others.”

Given the importance of new scientific research into sex and gender issues, the goal of the resource is to provide the latest information in an easily accessible format. The resource offers clear research summaries about women and commonly abused drugs, including marijuana, prescription medications, and nicotine. For example, “Women have a harder time quitting smoking than men do. Women metabolize nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco, faster than men."

Sex and gender differences are examined in the context of addiction treatment as well. To protect pregnant mothers and infants, Substance Use In Women includes a detailed section that summarizes the latest research related to drug use while pregnant or breastfeeding. Although the majority of new mothers and mothers-to-be realize that drugs, including tobacco and alcohol, can be passed on to their babies via the womb and breastfeeding, many are still unaware of the dangers.

The resource also examines how sex and gender affect substance use disorder treatment. Effective treatment should incorporate approaches that recognize such differences. Specifically, the unique types of trauma women sometimes face needs to be recognized with services provided to address such trauma. There also needs to be added support for women with child care needs.

In addition, the new NIDA resource looks at other issues related to drug use, including co-occurring mental health disorders, women and violence, and the importance of including women in research. For example, women and men often use drugs for different reasons and respond to them differently. Recent research has shown that substance use disorders may manifest differently in women than in men. To find out more about how women might differ from men, federal agencies have developed guidelines to promote the inclusion of women in research projects.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.