The Woman and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse refers to the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances (substances that when taken affect mental processes, e.g. cognition), including alcohol, tobacco, over-the counter, unprescribed or illicit drugs.

Psychoactive substance use can lead to dependence syndrome – a cluster of behavioral, cognitive, and physiological phenomena that develop after repeated substance use and that typically include a strong desire to take the drug, difficulties in controlling its use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to drug use than to other activities and obligations, increased tolerance, and sometimes a physical withdrawal state.

When used to treat the medical conditions for which they were approved at the recommended dose, these drugs are safe and effective, rarely leading to addiction or abuse, but when not used properly (like using it longer and in greater amounts than intended or without close supervision by a health care professional), they can lead to addiction and death. In most cases, developing a physical dependence on a certain drug causes your body to build up tolerance to it, requiring more of the drug to have the same effect.

Substance use disorders are complicated illnesses that present unique threats to women’s health. Medical research finds that women who consume alcohol, tobacco or other drugs may develop substance use disorders and/or substance-related health problems faster than men due to hormonal fluctuations (menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause). In addition, women themselves describe unique reasons for using drugs, including controlling weight, fighting exhaustion, coping with pain, and self-treating mental health problems.

Women can respond to substances differently. For example:

  • They may have more drug cravings and may be more likely to relapse after treatment.
  • They may also experience more effects on their heart and blood vessels.
  • Worse Brain changes in women than men.
  • Women who use certain substances may be more likely to have panic attacks, anxiety, or depression.
  • Women may be more likely to die from substance abuse

Group of women at risk of substance abuse:

  • women in their 20s and early 30s
  • women who are divorced or separated
  • women who are unmarried and living with a partner
  • victims of domestic violence
  • loss of child custody
  • the death of a partner or child
  • celebrities

Causes and risk factors for substance abuse

  • Family history (ineffective parenting, and parental drug use or addiction)
  • Depression and Mental Illnesses
  • History of sexual/physical abuse
  • Stress and Inability to Cope
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Social/peer Pressures

Complications/Effects of substance abuse

  • brain damage
  • liver disease
  • high blood pressure and other forms of heart disease
  • malnutrition (specifically thiamine deficiency)
  • anemia from malnutrition and eating disorders
  • heavy menstrual flow, irregular cycles, premenstrual pain or premature menopause
  • diabetes
  • respiratory disease
  • cancer (lungs, liver)
  • sexually transmitted diseases

Illicit drug use (such as heroin, cocaine or marijuana) often leads to behavior that puts women at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Substance Use in pregnancy

There is no safe ground for substance use in pregnancy. Women who therefore are planning to become pregnant or who are sexually active and might become pregnant should refrain from substance use, since damage can occur before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

For the mother, alcohol use during pregnancy has been associated with high blood pressure, miscarriage, premature delivery, and some effects as listed above.

       Effects on the baby of woman with substance abuse

  • premature birth
  • low birth weight
  • birth defects
  • small head size
  • sudden infant death syndrome
  • developmental delays
  • problems with learning, memory, and emotional control

Prevention of drug abuse

  • Health education on the effects (health, social) of drug abuse
  • Legislative control of production, and availability over these substance
  • Early diagnosis (recognition) and prompt management of drug abuse. Visit your doctor if you are involved with drugs, you cannot do it alone
  • Community support

Treatment of the complications

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