The relationship between gender and overdose deaths has not received the attention it should have in the past. But, things aren’t much different today as far as understanding the connection between gender and addiction. Few studies have been conducted regarding this situation.
Amid the current opioid epidemic, studies show significant increases in fatal overdoses among women. The good news is that because of those increases, experts are now beginning to pay more attention to why so many women are dying from overdoses today.
An example of the increase in overdose deaths among women is available in a report issued by the CDC. It states that among women aged 30 – 64 years, overdose deaths increased by 260% between 1999 and 2017. The deaths were attributed to various prescription drugs such as:
Although men are more likely to die from drug overdoses than women, the uptick in overdose deaths among women is concerning. So, we have to wonder why the sudden increase.
Reasons for Increased Drug Use Among Women
As women progress in age, their individual life experiences can affect the way they manage pain. They are more likely to visit the doctor for pain relief or anti-anxiety medications than men. In contrast, men tend to ignore pain due to the stigma that suggests they should be tough.
Other things that contribute to overdoses among women can include:
- Trying to be superwoman:
Women today struggle to be all things to all people. They strive to be the perfect wife and mother while also managing a demanding career and maintaining a social life. So, they are stressed, depressed, and overworked. As a coping mechanism, they turn to alcohol, sleep aids, stimulants, or antidepressants. As their stress levels rise, they may increase the dosage of their meds and suffer an overdose.
- Drug cocktails:
Another factor that has sparked the increase in fatal overdoses among women is the over-prescribing of Rx drugs by doctors. For instance, some women take more than one prescription medication at a time. They don’t die because they are addicts, they die from accidental overdoses due to mixing various medications. Some of the more dangerous combinations can include:
- Opioids and benzodiazepines
- Anxiety medications and amphetamines
- Benzodiazepines and alcohol
- Stimulants and heroin
The concurrent use of benzodiazepines along with opioids is one of the most significant risk factors for overdose among women. More than 30% of opioid overdose deaths involve benzodiazepines. Also, about 70 to 75 percent of people with opioid use disorder misuse benzodiazepines at some point in their life. According to the CDC, there has been an astonishing 830% increase in benzodiazepine overdose deaths among women from 1999 to 2017.
Most people don’t expect a woman in the 55 to 64 age bracket to have a drug problem. So, many doctors miss the warning signs in their female patients. As a result, women become more vulnerable to the possibility of an overdose. Also, some women hide or omit information about their drug use for fear of having the prescriptions discontinued.
Suicide rates among women between ages 45 – 64 have increased in recent years. Experts attribute suicides as part of the increase in overdose deaths. For instance, suicide rates for women in this age group climbed to 9.7 per 100,000 people in recent years. Studies show that women are twice as likely as men to have a lifetime diagnosis of MDD (major depressive disorder or PTSD. Furthermore, women are more likely to suffer childhood trauma than men. Trauma can contribute to suicidal ideations, low self-esteem, or depression. These symptoms are common in people who commit suicide.
Whether accidental or intentional, far too many women are dying needlessly in America today. So, what can be done to end this tragic loss of lives?
Steps to Prevent Fatal Overdose Among Women
Experts have different theories about the causes of fatal overdoses among women. But, they do agree that prevention and treatment should focus on this particular demographic. They also suggest the following solutions that can help lower the risk of overdose deaths among women:
- Physicians should ask all patients about their substance use habits.
- Don’t assume someone won’t have a SUD just because of their age or gender.
- Treatment should provide services that focus on the specific needs of women.
- Physicians should follow CDC Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids.
- Expand research on the impact of Rx drug abuse among women.
- Provide education about alternative methods for dealing with stress, anxiety, or pain.
Women with substance use problems struggle with denial, shame, and fear. They fail to take an honest look at what’s going on and don’t seek treatment. In far too many cases, this inaction leads to an overdose or death. Family members, friends, and physicians can help by learning the warning signs of drug abuse or addiction. If necessary, family and friends can stage an intervention to help their friend or loved one seek treatment.
Customized Treatment Programs at Design for Change Recovery
Whether you are a wife, mother, or daughter, our treatment program can be customized to adapt to your specific needs as a woman. We understand how the demands of daily life can overwhelm women to the point of seeking an escape. When drugs or alcohol become the mechanism you use for coping with challenges, addiction can happen without warning.
If drug or alcohol abuse is affecting your life in detrimental ways, seek treatment today. Contact us at Design for Recovery in beautiful Lancaster, CA to learn how our program can help you.
- .cdc.gov/mmwr/ – Drug Overdose Deaths Among Women Aged 30-64 Years
- cdc.gov/opioids/ – About CDC’s Opioid Prescribing Guideline
- prcp.psychiatryonline.org/ – Opioid Use Disorder in Women and the Implications for Treatment