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Understanding The Physical Toll Addiction Takes

Addiction is a brain disorder, which is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and is characterized as habitually engaging in rewarding stimuli regardless of the negative consequences.

An individual struggling with addiction will prioritize satisfying her substance cravings above all else. The habits one develops to accommodate her addiction can be incredibly damaging, and wreck havoc in all areas of her life. It is highly common for women to experience strained relationships, negative physiological effects, financial difficulties, and/ or legal complications. Research has indicated that addiction affects the female population differently than the male population. Every individual is different and will have unique experiences when it comes to addiction. 

Addiction to Depressants

Women and Addiction

While every individual suffering from addiction will be met with a myriad of struggles, there are certain ways addiction affects females differently than men. The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that this is influenced by biological differences (sex) and culturally defined roles for men and women (gender). Specifically women struggling with addiction are prone to develop issues related to the following:

  • Fertility
  • Pregnancy
  • Hormones
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Menopause
  • Breastfeeding

Research findings have further illuminated that women have distinctive reasons for abusing drugs in the first place. Examples include coping with pain, weight control, fighting exhaustion, attempting to self-medicate mental health issues…etc. The biological sex hormones that a woman produces are said to increase her sensitivity to certain substances, which can exacerbate the effects of the abused substance more so in women than it may in men.

Studies have shown that women abuse substances differently than her male counterpart (i.e. using a smaller doses of substances over a shorter period of time before developing an addiction). Women are said to be more likely to require emergency medical assistance and/ or die from overdose than men. The changes that can occur in one’s brain as a result of addiction differ for women than men. Furthermore, women who struggle with addiction are likely to experience more severe physical effects on their heart and blood vessels than men. 

Every person that begins treatment for substance abuse and/ or addiction must go through a detox phase. Detox is the process that rids one’s body of any foreign substances. Withdrawal symptoms are an integral component of the detox stage, as they are the body’s physical manifestation to the absence of any previously abused substance with which it had become accustomed to functioning. Data suggests that it is not uncommon for women to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms when detoxing.

Addiction and Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a biological component of reproduction that can only affect the female population. Pregnancy can be an overwhelming time in a woman’s life, as it is a time of great hormonal, physical, emotional and psychological shifts. Although many physiological changes that occur during pregnancy are not lifelong effects, managing them in the moment can seem like an impossible endeavor. Pregnancy is a delicate time in a woman’s life. She must adhere to a plethora of medical recommendations including dietary restrictions, exercise routine adjustments, and an inability to continue taking certain medications that may have been previously relied upon. Many women that plan pregnancies taper off medications and begin to implement the needed adjustments in their lives to accommodate a healthy pregnancy. Women that become unintentionally pregnant likely have a different experience, especially if she has struggled with substance abuse and/ or addiction. 

Women that continue to abuse drugs and/ or alcohol while pregnant put themselves and their unborn babies at significantly increased risk for developing a myriad of both short and long term effects, ranging in severity. Nearly every single thing ingested by a pregnant woman is then transferred to the fetus. Abuse of drugs and/ or alcohol can lead to premature birth, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), small head size, birth defects, low birth weight, stillbirths, neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), developmental disabilities, and more. It is of utmost importance for a pregnant woman actively using drugs and/ or alcohol to obtain substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment as soon as possible.

happy after treatment

Further Information

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous.

If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. 

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