It’s impossible to portray all sides of substance abuse with a couple hundred words online or in a newspaper. As you can imagine, it’s a multilayered problem with a multitude of potential sources and solutions.
That is especially true for women who fall into using addictive substances. The relationship between the female population and drugs and alcohol is complex. It’s also a massive problem, since women are more susceptible to addiction than men. For that, there are plenty of explanations.
There’s also one potential source of inspiration that could be a guiding light for girls and women who have suffered in the past, and that’s feminism. But, before we touch on that, let’s uncover how this half of the population struggles with substance abuse.
On Pain Thresholds
Scientific evidence shows that across the board, women tend to experience pain more intensely and more frequently than men. Women are also more likely to report pain, since toxic masculinity culture holds that men aren’t supposed to show any supposed “weakness.”
To that end, a woman probably won’t ignore pain as easily. Instead, she will go to her doctor for help — relief tends to come in the form of a prescription painkiller. And it just so happens doctors typically prescribe higher doses of medication to women, which makes it that much easier to develop a dependency to it.
Women’s Mental Health Concerns
A staggering one in three Americans suffers from a mental health issue. Those odds are high, but the odds the sufferer will be a woman are even higher. Partially though, that’s because, again, women are more prone to reporting the issues they’re facing. This is another reason why we need to dispel of the toxic masculinity behind the popular sentiment that men are weak for experiencing or admitting to problems like depression.
Anxiety and depression can lead women to have substance abuse problems as they attempt to self-medicate. In fact, it has become such a problem in both sexes that doctors have started looking for co-occurring disorders — namely, mental health issues — when they try to treat substance abuse.
The Stigma Around Women Who Use
For men, drinking too much or using drugs has become part of the narrative, thanks to popular music and movies. As such, society punishes them less for substance use and abuse, because they’re just doing what they’re expected to do. They’re just “boys being boys.”
Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be feminine, and using drugs or alcohol doesn’t fit. On top of that, there is an expectation that they should all be motherly and round-the-clock nurturers. With these responsibilities upon them, substance use amongst women becomes stigmatized.
Women Experience — and Hide —Trauma
Substance abuse doesn’t necessarily play a factor in abusive situations — men who abuse women don’t always do so because of drugs or alcohol. But this type of trauma is one example of why women become susceptible to addictions of their own.
If a woman experiences any type of abuse — from sexual assault to domestic violence — she’s much more likely to suffer from mental health disorders. And, as we know, feelings of anxiety and depression are impetuses for an addiction to begin. With memories of untreated abuse, many women self-medicate to dull the pain rather than seeking help and treatment. Often, they also avoid seeking assistance out of fear their abuser will find out.
To that end, other difficulties that come with being a woman can also be contributing factors. Most of the female population can point to a time when they experienced discrimination or stress because of their gender. For example, workplace sexism or frequent catcalling can be distressing over time, thus leading to mental health and substance issues.
How Feminism Can Help
Feminism is making huge strides to ensure women don’t have to fall into substance abuse due to trauma. The #MeToo movement and general openness about these types of experiences — and reiterating that these experiences should not be considered OK or normal — can move the female population forward with more resilience.
On that note, propping women up and championing their successes is what feminism is all about. Of course, it might not be that simple when it comes to helping someone fight an addiction — but it’s a great place to start.