Because women are much more likely to speak frankly with their doctors, they are also more likely to receive a prescription, and doctors are less likely to recognize the signs of prescription drug abuse in their female patients. Many women who become prescription drug addicts would never use illicit drugs or abuse alcohol, but feel justified in using drugs prescribed by a medical professional. This has led to an epidemic of prescription drug abuse and addiction in women in the U.S.
A national survey in 2010 found that of the 2.4 million Americans who became first-time prescription drug addicts in that year, more than half were female with two-thirds being over 17 years of age. To put that into perspective, that is 2,191 women per day that became addicted to prescription drugs. More than 6,600 died from an overdose of painkillers in the same year.
Reasons, Drugs of Choice and Rationalization
Studies show that while men abuse prescription drugs for social or behavioral reasons, women abuse them for psychological reasons. Women are more likely to abuse:
- pain medications
- diet pills
- sleeping tablets
- anxiety medications
While women are are more likely to become addicted to prescription medication, they often believe that they are not dependent because it is prescribed or that being addicted to prescription drugs is not as bad as illicit drug abuse.
Treatment and Gender
Women are less likely to seek treatment and face more barriers to treatment access than do men. However, women tend to be more successful in rehab. While the evidence shows that gender-specific treatment is no more effective, some women will only seek help in single-gender programs.
The most obvious problem is the over-prescribing of addictive drugs by doctors who do not recognize the risks these drugs pose to women. Physicians should be monitoring and screening for signs of abuse before taking out the prescription pad, and be more willing to explore alternative forms of pain management. Drug addiction treatment centers need to be more willing to provide women-only sections to encourage more female addicts to seek help.
While women respond very well to rehab, they are less likely to seek help. Denial and justification are two barriers to women admitting to their addiction. If you are a woman addicted to prescription drugs, or have a loved one who you fear is addicted, it is best to contact a professional drug addiction rehab facility sooner than later. With rising numbers of women dying from prescription drug overdose, it may be a matter of life and death.