In the United States, illicit drug use varies by age, location, race, and several other factors. Sex and gender also make a difference in substance use.
For the most part, no gender seems inherently predisposed to drug use. Factors such as family history, co-occurring disorders, and environment make a bigger difference, all of which can apply to anyone regardless of gender.
However, sex and gender often overlap with these factors, which means that there are some differences between genders when it comes to drug use. These factors can provide insight for people with addictions, their loved ones, and treatment providers.
Current Drug Use Numbers
As of 2022, research on sex and addiction says that men are more likely to abuse almost all types of illicit drugs than women. Men are also more likely than women to visit the emergency room or die as a result of an overdose. However, men and women are equally as likely to develop a substance use disorder, according to some recent studies.
Most of these studies have focused primarily on cisgender people, or people whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth. Fewer studies have focused on transgender people, or people whose gender identity does not align with their sex at birth.
However, some studies show that transgender people are more likely to experience substance abuse than their cisgender peers.
Factors That Make a Difference
Several factors can affect how different genders experience substance abuse. This includes both biological and social factors.
Body composition can impact substance abuse and addiction. For instance, alcohol generally has a stronger impact on female bodies than male bodies. Female bodies have more fat and less water than male bodies, which means that alcohol metabolizes slower for them and remains in their systems longer.
Socialization is one of the biggest factors that intersect with gender and substance use. For example, men may be more likely to abuse substances because they are socialized to take risks.
Socialization may also impact a person’s drug of choice. For instance, women face disproportionate pressure to lose weight and remain thin. Some studies have noted high rates of stimulant abuse for weight control among women, especially among young women, as stimulants can suppress the appetite.
According to the minority stress theory, people in minority groups experience more stressors than non-minorities. Minority stress has a negative impact on mental health, and poor mental health is a risk factor for substance abuse.
Minority stress impacts cisgender women, but it has an especially high impact on transgender, nonbinary, and intersex people. Some researchers have connected this stress to increased transgender mental health issues, including substance abuse.
What We Need from Researchers
While society has learned a lot about gender and substance abuse, much more research is needed for accuracy. Until relatively recently, very few health studies included women, as men were viewed as the uncomplicated “default” gender. As a result, we have little women’s health research available.
We have even fewer studies that include transgender, intersex, and nonbinary people, except in the context of the broader LGBTQ community. As more research emerges, society will gain a better idea of how addiction impacts different genders.
Getting Help for Addiction
Substance abuse is a complex disorder, and several factors make a difference. Fortunately, addiction is treatable, and people of all genders have benefitted from addiction therapy.
If you or a loved one may have an addiction, talk to a doctor, or look for treatment providers in your area. You may find a provider that specializes in treating your gender demographic. In any case, getting treatment is a vital first step in taking charge of your health.