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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Fundamental differences – Women and drug addiction

No matter the circumstances, no matter the individual, drug addiction is a harrowing, sad concept. Unfortunately, thousands of individuals suffer from addiction to various substances, many of them feeling lost and hopeless in their downward spiral. Drug addiction is a health issue and while it makes complete sense that authorities feel the need to moderate it as if it were, it also must be realised that drug addiction is first and foremost, an issue of health, not of criminality. On average, women respond far quicker to taking drugs, forming addictions faster and more strongly than men. While there are various support systems out there for addicts – including, but not limited to support groups, luxury drug rehabs, and therapy – it is a known fact that women are less likely to ask for help in the wake of their drug addiction. This is an extremely dangerous problem, and more must be done to encourage addicts to seek the help they so desperately need.

While men are more likely to develop an addiction to drugs, it is women who are far more susceptible to the damaging side effects. In the US, drug overdose remains the leading cause of fatality, with opioids being the most common denominator of drug-related deaths. There are many reasons that could contribute to women being more vulnerable to drug addiction than men, and all of them house their own logic and valid points. Generally speaking, women are not only more susceptible to chronic pain than men, but they are also more often found to be in primary control of caregiving. The underlying issue with this is that, as women are more emotionally aligned than men (most of the time), they are also more likely to develop increased levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Being a primary caregiver is a stressful job, and it can elevate the emotions of a person, leading to further increased vulnerability to mental ailments and thus, prescribed or otherwise obtained medications.

As women medicate themselves in times of extreme challenges and pressures, they also find themselves in a dark lace that is immensely difficult to pull themselves out of. The notion that addiction is tougher on women than it is on men is not unfounded. Women experience a so-called “telescoping” phenomenon when they experiment or otherwise rely on drugs. Essentially, this phenomenon results in female addicts experiencing a type of tunnel vision that makes it difficult to re-emerge from the high and regulate back into normal life. While it is thought that this “telescoping” coping mechanism relates directly to emotional establishment and connection to drug use. Women are generally more emotional beings than men, and therefore tend to connect emotionally more to their circumstances – even if that means sacrificing their health.

This is particularly dangerous for women who are pregnant when they become addicted to drugs. Pregnant women who are addicts are often made dependent on such substances due to pain management during pregnancy. The result is that not only the mother, but the newborn, become addicted to the substance and must be weaned off it once the birth has happened. Pregnant addicts are warned of the consequences of their choice once their ailment is made known – when the baby is born, it can be taken off the mother and placed into a safe, drug-free environment. This is particularly true when the newborn comes into the world already addicted to drugs, before they even have the chance to be exposed to anything positive in the world. There has been a disturbingly high rise in the number of newborn babies who are exposed to drugs and then practically forced into withdrawal the second they are born.

Female addicts find it more difficult to seek help than male drug addicts. While the reasons may vary case by case, generally what it comes down to is shame. Women spiral so quickly into drug addiction that they are often left shocked by their fast downfall, and ashamed. When drug use is so highly and publicly criminalised, it closes potential gateways to addicts who genuinely want to heal from their addictions and improve their lives. Addicts in general often do not come forward and speak of their disease for fear of judgement or criminal consequences. As women tend to suffer more quickly and intensely than men, their aversion to seeking help is far more deep-rooted than it is with men. Open conversation about addiction as a health problem and not a criminal offence would undeniably open the gateways for female addicts to seek help in a safer, more secure environment.

Drug addiction is a harrowing ailment. When an individual experiences drug addiction, their health barrels into decline and they are left with the broken pieces and no idea how to mend them back together. Specifically, female addicts fall into addiction faster and harder than men (generally) and are less likely to seek help for their crumbling health when they reach the point of realising that enough is enough. Ultimately, what needs to happen is more open conversation about addiction, its direct links to health, and the realisation that criminalising drug addicts is not only not the answer, but it is directly impacting the problem by instilling fear and shame in addicts that stops them from actively seeking the help they have a right to, and that they deserve. While treating addicts is fundamentally important regardless of their gender, it is decidedly female addicts who need more help to get to the place of even asking for assistance. Asking is the first step.

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