Women and Addiction

Monday 8th March 2021 marks International Women’s Day. This is an annual global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. To recognise International Women’s Day, we have decided to focus this blog on Women and Addiction.

Addiction impacts everyone differently, and there are many various factors and circumstances that can lead to an individual developing an addiction. Gender is one of these factors to consider. For years, addiction research was primarily focused on men, but thankfully in recent decades we have seen more and more women included in studies which has revealed that there are significant differences in the way women are impacted by addiction in comparison to men.


In Ireland, there has always been more men misusing drugs and alcohol than women. However, in recent years, we have started to see this gap narrowing especially among the younger generation. Studies have shown that teenage girls are now binge drinking as often as teenage boys and even experimenting with drugs in equal proportions. This undoubtedly raises concerns about women’s relationship with drugs and alcohol in the future and may mean there will be increasing numbers of women suffering from addiction and substance abuse in the future.


In general, women appear to be more vulnerable in terms of their physical health to the adverse effects of alcohol and drug misuse in comparison to men. In relation to alcohol, studies have shown that alcohol-related health problems may develop earlier with women than men, in particular liver diseases after consuming lower levels of alcohol than men. Equally with drugs, dependency rate can develop much quicker with women than men and women are a lot more likely to suffer from physical health issues. The reasons for these issues is partly down to biology. Ordinarily, women have a proportionally higher ratio of fat to water than in men, and therefore makes it more difficult for their body to dilute the alcohol or substances. In addition to this, women’s hormones come in to play. Hormones affect the quantity and pace of absorption and can be another reason why effects can be stronger on women’s physical health even if they are consuming equal amounts to men. There is no doubt women should be made aware of these risk to their physical health. In particular, this should be highlighted to young people to help educate them on the dangers.


Without delving too deeply into dual diagnosis, there is a strong connection between mental health issues such as depression and addiction. Mental health issues can be a significant reason for, as well as a product of, substance abuse. Unfortunately, with women generally being twice as likely as men to suffer from depression, it means mental health issues are a significant pathway to addiction. When you combine this with alcohol being a depressant and high rate of depression among drug users in general, it poses a huge risk to women.  In addition, women experience a lot more stigma than men when it comes to substance abuse and addiction. In general, women are judged a lot more harshly than men, especially if there are children involved. This results in greater feelings and emotions of guilt and shame for women and often even is a barrier to seeking treatment.


Pregnancy – There are a wide range of serious health and developmental consequences for the foetus during pregnancy if the Mother consumes alcohol or uses drugs. Miscarriages and birth effects are just some of the possible outcomes of high intakes of alcohol, while Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), stillbirths and pre-term delivery are all linked to drug use during pregnancy. In addition to these risks, a Mother that is misusing substances while pregnant has a higher possibility of not attending care as often as non-alcohol or non-drug using women which contributes to health issues for both the mother and the baby. In contrast however, pregnancy can be seen as a new beginning for women in addiction and encourage them to tackle their addiction for the benefit of their child.

Binge Drinking – With Ireland having an alarmingly high level of binge drinking, particularly among young women, there is a substantial possibility of increased alcohol-related illnesses and addiction among middle-aged women in the years to come.  This is a very concerning area for women in Ireland today.

Prescription Drug Misuse – When it comes to most illicit drugs abuse, men outnumber women in terms of misuse. However, when you specifically take prescription drugs, women are the one who predominantly use and abuse. Women are prescribed tranquillisers, sedatives and anti-depressants at a much higher rate than men. In addition to this, the higher use of benzodiazepine among women of all ages is genuinely concerning. Although there may be small numbers of individuals presenting for treatment with an addiction to prescription drugs, it’s an issue that women need to be made aware of.


There are some studies out there that suggest women are more likely to relapse than men after completing treatment. Five possible reasons suggested for this are:

  • Getting into a romantic relationship too soon after treatment
  • Untreated mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
  • Lack of support
  • Being married to a heavy drinker or user
  • Lack of belief in their own ability


If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, get help today. We can help you recover in a healthy, friendly environment and beat your addiction. Do not hesitate to contact one of our counsellors today for information by calling +353 (21) 488 7710 for Cork or +353 (1) 639 2962 for Dublin, or alternatively you can email us at info@taborgroup.ie. We can help you.