Pathways to psychotropic drugs. Understanding the basis of gender differences

Med Care. 1990 Apr;28(4):285-300. doi: 10.1097/00005650-199004000-00001.


Earlier studies have established substantial gender differences in the likelihood of obtaining a psychotropic drug prescription, and a correlation, especially among women, with such family characteristics as family responsibilities, marital separation, divorce or widowhood, and the presence of family stressors such as an ill spouse. However, the pathways to psychotropic drug use are not clearly understood. Data from the National Medical Care Expenditure Survey show that gender differences in obtaining a psychotropic drug can be accounted for by the greater likelihood of women to perceive illness, particularly mental illness and musculoskeletal conditions, diagnostic conditions that together account for roughly half of all psychotropic drug prescriptions. In relation to family responsibilities, employment significantly decreases the likelihood of a psychotropic drug prescription for both men and women. The greater likelihood of divorced, separated, or widowed women to obtain psychotropic drugs can be explained by their greater likelihood of episodes of illness, particularly those involving mental illness, and by their greater number of physician visits. The presence of all ill spouse is associated with psychotropic drug use only indirectly by increasing the likelihood of Medicaid coverage. Thus, differences between men and women in the likelihood of obtaining prescriptions for psychotropic drugs do not appear to result from different physician-patient interactions or from gender-determined treatment norms by physicians.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease / psychology
  • Drug Prescriptions*
  • Drug Utilization
  • Employment
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Identification, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Single Person / psychology
  • United States
  • Women / psychology


  • Psychotropic Drugs