A Gender Perspective of Addictive Disorders

Curr Addict Rep. 2021;8(1):89-99. doi: 10.1007/s40429-021-00357-9. Epub 2021 Feb 16.


Purpose of review: Substance use disorders (SUD) affect differentially women and men. Although the prevalence has been reported higher in men, those women with addictive disorders present a more vulnerable profile and are less likely to enter treatment than men. The aim of this paper is to present an overview of how sex and gender may influence epidemiology, clinical manifestations, social impact, and the neurobiological basis of these differences of women with SUD, based on human research.

Recent findings: The differences in prevalence rates between genders are getting narrower; also, women tend to increase the amount of consumption more rapidly than men, showing an accelerated onset of the SUD (telescoping effect). In respect to clinical features, the most important differences are related to the risk of experience psychiatric comorbidity, the exposure to intimate partner violence, and the associated high risks in sexual and reproductive health; and those who are mothers and addicted to substances are at risk of losing the custody of children accumulating more adverse life events. Some of these differences can be based on neurobiological differences: pharmacokinetic response to substances, sensitivity to gonadal hormones, differences in neurobiological systems as glutamate, endocannabinoids, and genetic differences.

Summary: Specific research in women who use drugs is very scarce and treatments are not gender-sensitive oriented. For these reasons, it is important to guarantee access to the appropriate treatment of women who use drugs and a need for a gender perspective in the treatment and research of substance use disorders.

Keywords: Addiction; Addictive disorders; Gender; Sex differences.

Publication types

  • Review