woman in frame

Credit: Kathryn

So we know that words like “junkie” and “alcoholic” evoke an inaccurate image of a person with a substance use disorder. Like, a junkie is supposed to be a skinny twentysomething with circles under his eyes; he’s got a bunch of tattoos and nowhere to sleep tonight. And an alcoholic is, let’s say, closer to sixty. Big old gut. Estranged family. Maybe he’s prone to violence, maybe he just seems absent from life.

These images don’t work. There are people with opioid use disorders who are neither skinny nor in their twenties. And people with alcohol use disorders of all ages, of all gut sizes.

And not only that–these images don’t account for the fact that there are women with substance use disorders.

Because we imagine “the addict” as a man, according to Dr. Amy Taylor, women with addictions are “either invisible or offensive.” Dr. Taylor is a clinical psychologist who participated in our Scaife Medical Student Fellowship in 2009 (in the past, the program was open to medical and psychology students).

Taylor’s experiences learning about addiction and addiction treatment in the Scaife Fellowship led her to an interest in women’s experience of addiction, treatment, and recovery.

“Male drug use is sometimes seen as part of male risk taking and a masculine identity,” she writes. “This is despite the fact that women are the primary abusers of some kinds of substances and tend to develop more severe health problems and to develop them sooner than male users.”

In her final project for the Scaife Fellowship, Taylor shared key facts about women and addiction, such as:

  • Women are prescribed benzodiazepines and opioids at higher rates than men.
  • Women’s develop substance use disorders more quickly than men, a phenomenon known as “telescoping.”
  • Women access treatment less frequently than men.
  • Women are more likely to express embarrassment about receiving addiction treatment.
  • Women with substance use disorders are more likely to be denounced as bad parents than men are.

Read the full paper here.

We’ve written on our blog about the criminalization of pregnant women who use drugs and ways in which the War on Drugs has particularly affected women. Taylor’s work inspired us to make an infographic about ways in which women are at higher risk of substance use disorders and have a harder time finding help.

Click here to access the infographic online. Feel free to share it on Facebook, Pinterest, and all that good stuff.