Out of habit, when we discuss addiction, we tend to provide generalized information that applies to anyone who may be impacted by a substance abuse disorder. While this approach may provide valuable information to people, it creates the illusion that addiction affects everyone in the same way, but it doesn’t.
Obvious factors, such as age and genetics, play a huge role in how addiction affects a person, but there is one lesser-known factor that majorly influences the types of health problems you develop from an addiction. That factor is gender.
Addiction, whether it is to drugs or alcohol, presents women with unique challenges and problems that men do not face. We will take a closer look at some of the unique problems women face when they develop an alcohol or drug abuse disorder.
Effects of Addiction on Women’s Reproductive Health
Prolonged exposure to harmful drugs and alcohol can cause extensive damage to a woman’s reproductive system. Sometimes the damage that is caused, such as menstrual problems or infertility, can be reversed once the addiction is successfully treated. However, some problems are permanent.
Some of the lasting effects addiction can have on women’s reproductive health include:
- Contracting a sexually transmitted infection or STI: This happens as addiction can cause you to engage in risky behavior, such as having unprotected sex or multiple sexual partners, which increases your risk of developing serious STIs.
- Infertility: Addiction changes hormone levels and ovulation timing, which can make it difficult, if not impossible, for women to conceive.
- Problems with the mental or physical development of the fetus during pregnancy: Using drugs or alcohol can result in a number of problems that affect the unborn child. Problems can include fetal alcohol syndrome, low birth weight, behavioral problems and neurological disorders.
Addiction Puts Women at Greater Risk for Developing Serious Health Problems
Addiction can cause a number of serious health problems for both men and women. However, women have a higher risk of developing certain addiction-related health problems than men.
Some of the serious health problems women have a higher risk of developing if they suffer from an addiction include:
- Liver disease, such as hepatitis, liver failure or cirrhosis
- Alcohol-induced brain damage, including mild cognitive impairment, memory loss or dementia
- Heart disease, including strokes, heart attacks and alcoholic cardiomyopathy
- Breast cancer
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Kidney disease, including kidney failure, kidney stones or kidney damage
How Addiction Affects Women’s Mental Health
Many women who suffer from addiction also suffer from some type of mental illness. In order to successfully treat the addiction, the mental illness must be properly diagnosed and treated.
Treating mental illness in women is different from treating it in men. Mental illness needs to be treated differently in women because there are biological factors that could be causing mental health issues.
Biological factors, such as lower natural serotonin levels, inability to properly process serotonin, and hormonal fluctuations have been linked to a variety of mental illnesses. While men can suffer from these biological problems, women are more likely to suffer from these problems.
How Addiction Affects the Visible Symptoms of Drug or Alcohol Abuse
There are multiple external and internal symptoms associated with drug or alcohol abuse. Anyone, no matter their gender, can experience a combination of both symptoms. However, women, more so than men, tend to experience more internal symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse, such as feelings of shame or guilt as well as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Since women tend to experience internal symptoms instead of physical symptoms, it is easier for them to hide their addiction. Hiding their addiction allows women to prolong or avoid seeking treatment as they can easily believe that nothing is wrong with them.
How Addiction Puts a Strain on Women’s Relationships With Family and Friends
Addiction can destroy even the healthiest relationships between friends and family. Women tend to find it more difficult to rebuild and strengthen broken relationships after an addiction. No one is exactly sure why this is, but some people believe it is because women tend to naturally be more social, which results in the formation of more relationships.
Another theory is that the internal symptoms of addiction, such as depression, anxiety and mood swings, tend to put a bigger strain on relationships than physical symptoms.
Because this is a unique problem that women with addiction face, many women-specific treatment programs focus on learning valuable tools and techniques that can help rebuild relationships with everyone from co-workers and friends to family members.
Whether you suffer from one of these health problems or a combination of problems, you can overcome your addiction as long as you find the right treatment program. There are dozens of different treatment programs available that are uniquely designed to address the specific issues women face when suffering from an addiction.