The women we love are at risk. To be specific, several million of them. The very real threat they face is substance abuse and addiction. This demographic has been largely overlooked in the past when it comes to research and education. But as more women fall into the trap of addiction, researchers have had no choice but to sit up and listen.
Most drug abuse research has revolved around men, but in recent years the National Institute on Drug Abuse(NIDA) and other agencies have made women’s research a priority. What they are finding from lab, field and clinical research is that women have a different set of risk factors and often need different services while in drug treatment.
NIDA says women have different biological factors that play into use, abuse and addiction. Their progression toward addiction, and consequences they face are different. This means that prevention education and treatment options need to be more tailored to women.
TROUBLED LIVES AND BIOLOGY PLAY A ROLE
NIDA’s research shows women who use drugs or alcohol often have other serious health problems, such as sexually transmitted diseases. Other problems include depression, making the need for women’s mental health initiatives imperative.
Many women who abuse drugs and/or alcohol have had troubled lives. According to NIDA, studies show that at least 70% of women users have been sexually abused by the age of 16. Most have had at least one parent who abused alcohol or drugs, the agency found. Other common traits in women users include low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, social isolation and little self-confidence.
An interesting finding by NIDA shows the biological differences between men and women extend to drug use. Women can develop substance abuse problems quicker than men, according to the report. Also, many treatment programs have been historically aimed at men. Women face a different set of challenges and needs.
NIDA says women’s programs need to offer food, shelter, clothing, childcare, transportation, parenting courses, medical and mental health services, therapy, legal assistance, education and job skills.
PREGNANCY AND HIV COMPOUND THE RISK
NIDA estimates that 4 million U.S. women, from all age groups, races and cultures, currently use drugs. Nine million have used illegal drugs in the past year, the study shows, and 3.7 million have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons in the past year. Most female drug abusers tend to use more than one drug, it says.
The agency is putting considerable effort behind research devoted to treatment and services for pregnant women and those with children. HIV/AIDS research is also needed for women because of health risks posed to them and their children. Women who share needles to inject drugs intravenously risk their health and can contract HIV or hepatitis.
NIDA said more than 28,000, or 70%, of AIDS cases among women are drug related. Fetuses, newborns and older children can unwittingly suffer the consequences of their mothers’ choices. Pregnant women who use drugs are at risk of having children who suffer from the following health problems:
- Low birth weight
- Stunted growth
- Behavioral problems
- Poor motor skills
- Increased risk of becoming users