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Women and Substance Abuse

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Friday night, ladies' night, a retro night or a salsa night- majority of American women look forward to socialize and have some unadulterated fun and entertainment - Preferably loud music, great dancing, plenty of alcohol to drink and some drugs too. Music and dance truly provide a veritable treat to one's senses. Is it the same with alcohol and drugs? A casual way to have fun can soon turn into an irresistible addiction.

Substance abuse mars the user's personality. Life ceases to be the same as before. Substance abusers undergo physical and psychological complications. Check the harmful effects of alcohol, drugs and substance abuse and why women are more vulnerable than men to short and long-term effects of substance abuse. Recover from substance abuse, reclaim joys of life.

Women and substance abuse

Substance abuse also means misuse of substances. The veil between use and misuse is easily identifiable. Across the world alcohol is the most abused substance. Some other substances commonly abused include marijuana, heroin, cocaine, cigarette, over-the-counter medications, inhalants and solvents.

Recent research conducted on the topic 'why people abuse substances such as drugs, alcohol points at 'sociability' as the foremost reason. There are a number of other reasons too.

  • It tastes good
  • It gives a turned on feeling/getting high
  • It leads to a drunken state
  • It helps to forget anxieties and worries
  • To be in sync with group

With specific regard to young girls, additional reasons have emerged.

  • To feel grown up
  • Result of influence of peers.
  • To explore taste/Inquisitiveness
  • For experimentation
  • To lose weight
  • To reduce sexual inhibitions
  • To boost confidence
  • To improve mood
  • To beat depression

Substance abuse in women is usually trauma related. Some have been sexually or physically abused in childhood or teenage, or have been subjected to emotional abuse, domestic violence. Some have witnessed abuse or violence.

In the beginning a small amount would suffice to feel good. It turns riskier when more is required to feel good. Soon, the urge is irresistible and lead to a stage of addiction. Though no one ever plans to become an addict, the very nature of both alcohol and drugs can make a woman turn an addict. Yes, alcohol and drugs have an addictive quality; hence it is very easy to abuse.

Women and drug abuse

In the United States of America, more than 20 million girls abuse drugs and alcohol. And the number is steadily recording a steep rise year after year. Amphetamines, anabolic steroids, club drugs, cocaine, heroin, inhalants, marijuana and prescription drugs top the list of abused drugs. Substance abuse, combining prescription drugs with alcohol is a most challenging problem in USA. Compared to a man's body, alcohol or drug reaction in a woman's body is different. Here are facts to prove it.

  • Women as compared to men have less fluid content. High amount of fluid content in the body makes it possible for alcohol to get diluted. Women get intoxicated faster because the fluid content is less. Hence, alcohol in body is in a concentrated form and affects women quickly.

  • Alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase- the alcohol-degrading liver enzymes is less in women. These are enzymes that break down the alcohol. As the enzyme is less, more alcohol reaches the bloodstream and concentration of alcohol in the blood is higher.

  • Women are more susceptible to develop alcohol-related disorders such as brain damage, liver disease, damage to the pancreas, heart muscle damage, cirrhosis and cancers mainly because a given amount of alcohol is more concentrated in a woman's body than in a man.

  • Woman's body is subjected to changing low levels of estrogen during different menopausal stage. Intoxication sets in faster when estrogen levels are low and elimination of alcohol from body is slowed down.

  • Women as compared to men are less sensitive to cocaine and the body response differs at different times of the month. Women need more cocaine to get the same effect as men.

  • Changing hormone levels affect the influence of drugs in women.

  • Women smokers suffer from specific illnesses besides suffering from common diseases linked to smoking.

Women and substance abuse-symptoms

Some are unaware, some like to deny and some like to hide it. Yet, friends and family members of a woman abusing alcohol, drug or substances can look for these symptoms and recognize substance abuse. Recognizing substance abuse symptoms earlier plays a vital role in timely, effective treatment. Here is a checklist that can help recognize substance abuse symptoms in women.

  • Gradual or sudden change in activities

  • Working women taking frequent offs

  • Students skipping classes

  • Drop in work /academic performance

  • Change in personality.

  • Neglecting children/family care

  • Weight loss

  • Slurred speech

  • Changes in appetite /sleeping patterns

  • Poor hygiene/shaggy appearance

  • Frequent mood swings, aggressive behavior

  • Loss of memory, often forgetting routines

  • Talks of suicides / disinterest towards life

  • Keeping aloof, self-centered behavior and actions

  • Keeping away from social gatherings

  • Avoiding close friends and family members

  • Prefers or happy with new set of friends

  • Increase in demand for money usage

  • Unrelated talk, lying

  • Prevents people from visiting personal room

  • Verbally or physically abusive towards others

  • Possess items connected with drug use (needles,syringes, pipes, mirror etc)

  • Takes chances with law, risky behavior

  • Begs for small or huge financial favors

Besides these, here are specific alcohol or drug abuse symptoms to look for.

  • Alcohol users suffering from alcohol related health problems.

  • Drug and substance abusers suffering from drug/substance abuse related health problems.

  • Promises to keep away from alcohol or drugs, but continues to abuse.

  • Denies drinking alcohol even when ample proof is available.

  • Stores alcohol bottles

  • Craves for a drink / begs for a drink or sniff.

  • Breath smells of alcohol, uses mints and mouthwash often.

  • Loss of motor skills, dry mouth, dry eyes, hunger and thirst- marijuana abusers.

  • Using a drug without knowing its purpose and effects

  • Manipulating a doctor or lying in order to get prescriptions

  • Using one drug to overcome the effects of another.

Adverse effects of substance abuse

From teenagers as young as 13 to women 60 years and above, women can fall prey to substance abuse. Irrespective of the age, women who abuse alcohol, drugs or substances face greater risks than men. Also, women become addicted faster and face substance abuse related ill effects quicker as compared to men. Take a look at what alcohol, drug or substance abuse can do to a woman's health.


  • Women who abuse alcohol are more prone to develop illnesses.

  • Are at greater risk of developing ulcers, heart disease, liver disease, ulcers, reproductive problems, osteoporosis, pancreatis and memory loss.

  • Alcoholic liver disease is most common among women who abuse alcohol.

  • Cirrhosis is a dangerous condition to which millions of women who abuse alcohol succumb every year.

  • Hypertension, anemia and malnutrition are common amongst women who abuse alcohol.

  • Risk of developing breast cancer, osteoporosis and several digestive-tract cancers are high.

  • Women who drink heavily are likely to face menstrual disorders that lead to fertility problems.

  • Pregnant women who continue to drink are exposing the growing child to major health complications most of which are irreversible.

  • Chances of miscarriage are high amongst pregnant women who continue to abuse alcohol even after confirmation of pregnancy.

Drugs and substance abuse: marijuana, crystal meth, heroin, methadone, crack cocaine, morphine, or ecstasy, the effects differ depending on the type of drug and the duration of addiction.

  • It can be a mild itching to coma stage and ultimately death.

  • Brain is the first affected part. Control memory, concentration, thought, sensory and time perception, coordinated movements are severely impaired.

  • Chronic throat problems, blood-pressure change, increased heart rate, dilated pupils; decreased appetite and mental alertness are very common.

  • Major medical complications include heart disease, heart attacks, respiratory failure, strokes, and seizures.

  • Physical complications most noticeable include nausea, blurred vision, chest pain, fever, muscle spasms and coma.

  • Women who abuse substances may have to deal with menstrual disorders that lead to fertility problems and sexual dysfunction.

  • Women smokers may advance their menopause.

  • Pregnant women who continue to abuse drugs are exposing the fetus to problems related to central nervous system, possibility of mental retardation and damage to internal body organs.

  • Drug exposure during pregnancy hampers physical growth of the fetus, weakens immune system.

  • Marijuana abuse results in slower reflexes and mental confusion. The chance of developing lung cancer is high.

  • Women who inject drugs are exposed to get sexually transmitted disease, including AIDS.

Get help - substance abuse

The symptoms and indications are clear. The gravity of the situation is serious. It is time to seek help. If you or someone you care about has a substance abuse problem, provide the much-needed emotional support and facilitate an open discussion, talk to them about it and encourage them to get help.

  • Across USA, a number of public, private and non-profit agencies offer specialized residential/out patient rehabilitation/treatment programs for women.

  • Choose public, private or a non-profit agency that offer substance abuse help dedicated to helping women.

  • Treatment is individualized and takes into account severity of the problem, the substance abused, duration, age, related health problems, any underlying mental disorder.

  • Behavioral treatment program forms part of substance abuse treatment and covers strategies to cope with drug cravings and ways to avoid relapse.

  • Medications and counseling aim at physical and psychological recovery.

  • The programs include childcare services, prenatal care services, women-only treatment, mental health services, and supplemental services.

  • Treatment aims to achieve long-term recovery- the patient should cease to abuse substance.

  • Programs are designed to decrease substance abuse, increase treatment retention, improve prenatal/birth outcomes and prenatal care, bring about improvement in self-esteem and depression, and reduce HIV risk

Recover from substance abuse, reclaim joys of life

Millions of teens and women have fought substance abuse and reclaimed joys of life successfully. Their lives instill confidence, inspire the affected to shed hopelessness and choose the path of recovery. An online community enables people to communicate, interact, learn, and live while facing addiction. The motto is to spread awareness and also make people aware of the strong community of support that exists. They share their stories too and explain how substance abuse effective treatment is the ray of hope to reclaim joys of life.

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