Woman in a field looking at the sun setting.

By: New Life Contributor | New Life Addiction Counseling & Mental Health Services


Life is very difficult for those who struggle with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. There are specific challenges, however, that impact women due to both biological and social factors. Not only do drugs affect women’s bodies differently than men’s, but women are also more likely to become addicted by using smaller doses of drugs and alcohol as well. Hormones and the ability to bear children create even bigger challenges, and societal roles and the need for support with child or elder care also create barriers to alcohol addiction recovery. Being a woman struggling with addiction has trials that should be addressed so they can overcome them to eventually recover.

Why Women Abuse Drugs and Alcohol

There are many different reasons that women abuse drugs and alcohol. Women actually make up the largest growing population of alcohol use, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. A few of the reasons that women are at greater risk to use or abuse drugs and alcohol include:

  • Higher rates of co-occurring depression and mental health disorders
  • Higher rates of body image issues and eating disorders
  • More likely to use drugs or alcohol as a result of being a victim of abuse
  • More likely to use drugs or alcohol due to family member or significant other’s use
  • At risk to abuse prescription or other drugs due to family obligations without medical leave or sufficient income for health care

Initially, studies regarding addiction did not even include women, because it was thought that drug and alcohol abuse was not a problem within the female population. But as more and more women began to learn what happens when you drink alcohol every day, it became clear that they needed to be included in the research about drug and alcohol abuse. As studies were done, it revealed that addiction is every bit as devastating for women and, in some cases, presents more challenges than for men.

Health Factors Specific to Women

The risks for certain health conditions increase with drug and alcohol abuse. With many conditions, however, such as heart disease and damage to the liver and the brain, women are at risk of incurring these problems more quickly. Drugs and alcohol affect women’s bodies faster and women can become addicted using smaller amounts. Women are also at increased danger of sexual assault when using drugs or alcohol. Women have higher risks of panic attacks, anxiety, depression with addiction, and are more likely to go to the emergency room or die of an overdose than men, according to Substance Use in Women Drug Facts.

Additionally, drug and alcohol abuse cause health problems related to hormones, including menstrual cycles, fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause. Addiction has serious consequences for the children of women who use substances while pregnant or breastfeeding, including birth defects, low birth weight, premature birth, small head size and sudden infant death syndrome. Children of women in active addiction during pregnancy can struggle with long-lasting behavioral and physical problems, as well.

Treatment Barriers for Women

When it comes to learning how to beat addictions, women face gender-specific barriers. The most common barrier is accessing care for children or elders who are in the woman’s care to give her the time to undergo treatment for drug or alcohol addiction recovery. While there are laws in place to protect the jobs of those who need time off work for substance abuse treatment, many women are single mothers or not working outside of the home and might not be able to afford for someone else to watch the children or elderly person that they look after each day.

Women of childbearing age also face repercussions for seeking treatment if they become pregnant while in active addiction. If a woman tests positive for substances during delivery, child protective services may take the baby from her at birth or at any time afterward. Because women are more likely to relapse than men, seeking treatment puts families at risk of separation and thus becomes a barrier to alcohol and drug addiction recovery.

Finding Inspiration for Recovery

There are some instances, however, in which women who become pregnant while using substances will use the opportunity to seek treatment before the baby is born. In doing so, the outcome for the child is improved. For some women, the unborn child provides the impetus for improving her life and also the health and safety of the child. Sobriety is a gift not only to the child, but also to the mother, and has long-lasting positive consequences in terms of health, safety, security and a longer and happier life. By using motherhood as the inspiration for your recovery, you in turn inspire a better future for yourself.

For a woman who is not a mother, there are so many other reasons to get clean. Starting to love yourself, realizing that you are worth a better life, and knowing that you can succeed if you apply yourself can help propel you to recovery. Pinpoint something you are passionate about, surround yourself with a group of supportive women and take the first step to a sober life.


For more than three decades, New Life Addiction Counseling & Mental Health Services in Pasadena, Maryland, has been changing lives. As a co-occurring disorders center, we provide treatment tailored to strengthen those who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction while addressing the mental health issues that can contribute to the addiction.


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Disclaimer: Blunovus content is not therapy and is not designed to diagnose or treat any condition you may be experiencing. Please contact a medical or mental health professional for treatment that is specific to your needs.