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Why do men abuse substances more often than women?

Posted on 06-01-2016 Posted in Substance Abuse - 0 Comments

men abuse substances

Adult men are two to three times more likely than women to have a substance use disorder (SUD). But among individuals age 12 to 17, the rate of abuse is the same.

According to a British psychiatrist, men are more likely to abuse drugs because men take more risks than women. Dr. Adam Winstock says, “We [men] get into accidents more regularly, we have more unhealthy lifestyles, we die earlier, we have less insight into our health and well-being. We’re generally predisposed to engage in a whole bunch of risky behaviours while being physiologically less equipped to deal with them.”

So do men abuse substances because they take more risks, or are there other reasons?

Risk assessment through hospital stays

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) support and invalidate Winstock’s theory. A CDC 2010 report on short-stay hospital discharges found males under 15 were discharged from – and, therefore, admitted to – hospitals over 1 million times in 2010; the number of females patients was just over 860,000. Teenage boys can be feckless, reckless creatures. Their short-stay hospitalization numbers support Winstock’s conclusion that they take more risks than do teenage females.

However, the CDC report found women 15 and older were discharged more often following short-stay hospitalizations than men 15 and older. Two facts influence this disparity. One, for ages 15 to 44, women had a 3 to 1 higher ratio for hospitalization. This is explained by the fact the average childbearing age is 25. Hospitalizations for the 45 to 64 age bracket were nearly the same (4.6 million for men; 4.8 million for women). For the 65 and older demographic, 7.6 million were hospitalized for short-term stays compared to 5.9 million for men. These numbers can be explained by the fact that females comprise just over 50 percent of the population and outlive men by an average of five years in the U.S., which means that there are simply more older women than older men to require hospitalization.

Different sexes, different risks

If Winstock’s suppositions are to be believed, the rate of SUDs for adolescent males should be higher than the rate for adolescent females; they’re not. In fact, female adolescents are taking up drugs at a greater rate than their male counterparts. The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) lists the following why adolescent females buck abuse trends:

  • Girls are physically and sexually abused more than boys, leading to substance abuse
  • Girls become addicted more quickly than boys
  • Girls report it is easy to acquire street drugs
  • Girls are more likely to be depressed and have eating disorders, leading to substance abuse

The disparity of substance abuse between the sexes swings in the opposite direction once males reach adulthood. Reasons for this vary from fulfilling archetypal expectations (hunter, gatherer, protector and provider) to more modern definitions of what it means to be male (stoical, masculine or macho). An article in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology suggests males externalize emotions through or alcohol or drugs. Conversely, women internalize, leading to higher rates of anxiety and depression. Another reason is women are more likely to seek help for problems, whereas men will turn to alcohol or drugs for a remedy.

There are ultimately many factors that influence how the sexes tend to approach substance abuse, but each individual is different. Sovereign Health of Florida treats female and male patients for substance abuse and co-occurring mental disorders. Our treatment and relapse prevent programs provide patients with resources to remain substance-free. Contact our 24/7 helpline for more information on how we can help you.

About the author:

Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health Group. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at

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