Substance use disorder is complex issue that affects people in different ways. However, some factors, such as traumatic experiences or genetic predisposition can influence whether or not someone will become addicted. There’s another major influencer as well: relationships. Women are more likely to develop substance use disorder when they’re in relationships with men who are already addicted.
According to Gulf News, women often find that substance use is the price they pay for staying in relationships. Amal Al Fuqaie, a rehabilitation specialist at the Anti-Narcotics Department in Dubai, works closely with people with substance use disorder. She estimated that about 80 percent of cases of addicted women she has witnessed is because of their relationship with addicted men.
She said, “There are many reasons behind women’s addiction in Dubai like bad friends, social media and marriage disputes, but the main reason is their relationship with male addicts. Women are being deceived into addiction because of it.”
Substance use and intimacy issues are often linked—though, according to Psychology Today, women are more likely to relate addiction to relationships. Women tend to complete treatment successfully, and are more optimistic about their odds of staying abstinent. “However, because their problematic adult history of intimate relationships, sexuality, and dating was either not dealt with or written off as something to be handled later, these women were ill-prepared for the challenges of ongoing real-world sobriety. In short, their shame and secrets regarding past and present sexual and relationship oriented behaviors were left unaddressed, as was education about how they might be able to handle/tolerate/manage sex and intimate relationships in sobriety without relapsing.”
Sexual relationships seem to have a disproportionately negative effect on women who are struggling with addiction. Although substance use disorder is an “equal opportunity” illness, women bear an unequal burden. Socially, economically, and biologically, women are usually dealing with a very different deck of cards than men. Typically, women progress from first use to dependence more quickly than men. When women do develop drug dependence, they report problems of greater severity and experience more health-related consequences. Trying to exit addiction, women also face more barriers to recovery than men. The long-term effects of substance use may linger for women, even after they’ve achieved recovery. A woman’s addiction affects her entire family; the same isn’t always true for men.
According to NCADD, Women are “more likely to live with their children and to have to navigate the child welfare system. Addicted women are more likely than their male counterparts to have sexual and physical abuse histories, and women are twice as likely as men to suffer from mood disorders such as depression along with their addiction, which affects treatment outcomes.” Anecdotally, women often attribute relapse to intimate relationships. They used because their partner used, or because of some stress in the relationship.
Women may be ‘set up’ for addiction from an earlier age, as well. NCADD says, “The pathways leading to drug addiction differ for men and women and the beginning of women’s drug-using careers are often related to their relationships with men. Research has also shown that at least 70 percent of women drug users have been sexually abused by the age of 16, and most of these women had at least one parent who abused alcohol or drugs.”
Relationships can trigger mental health issues, which means that someone with many triggers has a higher risk for recurrence of use than someone with fewer triggers. Being a woman, it seems, is a built-in trigger for substance use. Seeking relationships that value recovery, finding support, and connecting with resources to leave abusive partners are all key for women who seek sustained recovery. Healthy partners make healthy partnerships. When women recover, everyone benefits.