How Drugs Affect Women’s Brains

How Drugs Affect Women’s Brains

Drugs and alcohol affect women’s brains differently than men’s

The differences between men and women have always been discussed, and the discussion now involves ways the sexes respond to drugs. A study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that certain tasks activate brain regions more strongly in women than men. For instance, when women drink alcohol, their heart rates tend to increase more than men’s, and women usually have greater feelings of physical and mental well-being after using cocaine. To explain this phenomenon, many theories point to differences in body chemistry and hormones.

Women and Prescription Drugs

Until the 1990’s, women were not allowed to participate in clinical trials in the US, but they are now prescribed twice as many psychotropic medications each year as men. The Scientific American online magazine suggests that hormones, body composition and metabolism may make women more susceptible to drugs. In each category of the most prescribed drugs, women experience greater pain relief and other effects than men; the following medicines were included in the study:

  • Prescription painkillers—Women experience greater pain relief from opioid painkillers then men due to the fluctuating levels of estrogen in their bodies
  • Antidepressants—Women respond better to certain anti-depressants than men
  • Sedatives—Women tend to have more sedatives in their systems than men the morning after using one, which is partially due to the fact that men’s livers metabolize drugs faster
  • Anti-anxiety drugs—Women have less acids in their stomachs than men, which could explain why anti-anxiety medications work longer in women than in men. It is also the reason that women are more susceptible to toxicity at lower doses.
  • Antipsychotics—Men require higher doses of antipsychotics than women to achieve similar results

Many reactions listed above account for behavioral changes that often result in injury. For example, women who use prescription painkillers or sedatives might feel the effects of the drugs longer than men, so they may have trouble driving or operating machinery even after a good night’s sleep. Furthermore, women who take the wrong kind of antidepressant may not get the relief that is possible from a different drug. Lastly, women who take anti-anxiety medications may have increased risks of overdose due to how quickly the drug works in them.

Drug Reactions and Fluctuating Hormones

Fluctuating hormone levels can impact every area of a woman’s life, which includes susceptibility to drug and alcohol addiction. Men do not deal with the same kinds of hormonal spikes each month, so drugs affect women differently than men. A 2014 study found that women who experience menopause before age 50 are more likely to suffer from memory and verbal issues than those who begin menopause at 50 or older. The cognitive effects of this issue may also affect the way a woman’s body reacts to medications. The dosage for a certain medication may need constant attention after a woman reaches menopause, as hormone fluctuations become more unpredictable.

Addiction Treatment for Women

One of the most important parts of these discoveries is the way addiction treatment must go. For women to succeed in addiction recovery, they must finding treatment that assesses their specific needs. They may need treatment that analyzes their relationships with family, friends and colleagues. The way environment impacts choice is also key for women recovering from addiction, as is treatment that considers socioeconomic statues and gender roles in the home. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends treatment to fit the needs of the individual, which means treatment must address the emotional needs of women drug addicts. Look for facilities that offer Dual Diagnosis treatment for mental illness and addiction: both inpatient and outpatient options are available, depending on individual circumstances. Your intake counselor will help you understand your insurance benefits for addiction treatment.

Addiction Help for Women

The differences between women and men are significant, especially in the way they respond to drugs and alcohol. If you understand the unique needs of women in addiction treatment, then you increase women’s chances of recovery. If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse and addiction, we are here for you. Call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.