Women and Opioids

Women are more likely to have an opioid use disorder due to chronic pain than their male counterparts. The statistics and effects of women and opioid addiction are often disturbing.

The Growing Problem of Women and Opioid Abuse

There is a growing problem with women and opioids. The opioid epidemic impacts both men and women at an alarming rate, but it impacts the two groups differently. While men are more likely to be victims of opioid abuse than women, women are more likely to develop a substance use disorder than men. Men are also more likely overdose and fatally overdose than women, and they are more likely to be given Naloxone the drug prescribed for opioid overdoses than women.19.5 million women used illicit drugs in 2017—including opioids.

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Due to biological and unique gender-related biology (e.g. women’s body weight and pregnancy) women experience opioid abuse differently than men do. Women are more likely to suffer chronic pain than men, becoming patients requiring prescription opioids. Women are also more likely to become dependent on opioids than their male counterparts, specifically as they tend to use opioids for a longer timeframe. Women who are around the reproductive age and women who have Medicaid are most likely to be prescribed opioids.

Some of the most well-known prescribed opioids to women are:

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Emotional Trauma, Women, and Opioids

Women use opioids to combat negative emotions more than men do. Unique conditions and trauma affecting women can contribute to opioid abuse when compared to male users. For example, women are more often the victims of physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse than men. Women who have experienced childhood trauma or domestic abuse may use opioids to “cope” due to the temporary pleasurable and numbing feelings these drugs cause.

Pregnant Women and Opioids

Expectant mothers are not exempt from opioid abuse. As a matter of fact, many use prescription opioids to help pregnancy pain. When prescription opioids are taken responsibly, they may not harm the baby (although all pregnant women should consult with a doctor before using any opioid). The problem lies in an expecting mother’s tolerance. If she has been taking a prescription opioid for a long time and has become used to the effects, she may take more than she is prescribed, or she may seek out a different, stronger opioid, like heroin. She may return to the doctor’s office to get a more potent prescription, visit several doctors to get multiple prescriptions, or turn to criminal drug dealers.

When an expectant mother abuses opioids, the chemicals get into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the baby gets exposed to the drug. In some cases, the baby will even develop a dependence in the womb. When the baby is born and its drug supply is cut off, he or she endures withdrawal symptoms. This condition is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). The baby experiences symptoms between 2 days and 2 weeks. Babies can feel:

  • Irritability
  • Tremors
  • Rigid muscles
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Loose muscles
  • Nausea
  • A high-pitched cry for drug

The baby craves the substance and needs to be weaned off. Sadly, some babies have additional complications, like learning deficiencies and low body weight.

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Prostitution, Poverty, Women, and Opioids

Women who abuse opioids, particularly those who inject them, are more likely to engage in prostitution to either fuel their habit or support themselves once their addiction has become so severe it impacts their ability to do other jobs. Conversely, women who become prostitutes, especially those who are trafficked and forced into prostitution, often use drugs as a coping mechanism or because they are forced to by their traffickers. An example of this vicious cycle can be seen in West Virginia and Ohio, where cities with higher rates of opioid abuse also see higher rates of prostitution.

Although opioid abuse affects women of all income levels, it disproportionately impacts women in poverty, in addition to causing poverty. Many women suffering opioid abuse often have lower educational levels and unstable housing. Women who abuse opioids are also more likely to be homeless. Women who are living on the streets and abusing opioids risk unwanted pregnancies, sexual violence, infection (HIV and hepatitis) and physical violence. They are also constantly exposed to unsafe people and have to thrive in unsafe environments.

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How Treatment Can Benefit Women

The cycle of opioid abuse has affected millions of women. Getting treatment is key. Women have unique factors impacting their opioid use disorder and should get treatment immediately. This is especially true of pregnant women, who not only endanger themselves but their babies as well. Detoxing while pregnant is extremely difficult, and in many cases dangerous, to do at home. The individual may attempt to detox and can harm the baby. If not properly done, she may have a higher chance of relapse.

Treatments in rehab facilities are best suited for women battling opioid abuse. Rehab offer emotional and spiritual modes of healing that help resolve the source of substance use disorders. Some treatment programs are gender-specific, offering woman-only campuses so women can heal comfortably. Counseling therapies and women-focused 12-step meetings allow women to fully connect to their peer group. Additionally, women will receive the best medication available with the support of doctors and nurses.

Get Help Today

Women struggling with opioid abuse can change their lives for the better, but it takes action. Seeking change may not be easy, and there may be many emotional factors holding one back, but help is out there. Treatment experts are knowledgeable in understanding the needs of future patients. Contact an experienced treatment expert today who can help you save your life.

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