Physical dependence and addiction is a serious health threat to any person who abuses drugs, but these threats are often more serious for young women than they are for other groups of people. In fact, in his book Women and Addiction in the United States, Dr. Stephen R. Kandall states that: “the use of drugs by women is due in large part to the stresses they face in society, such as minority status; reduced economic, social, and political expectations; and disproportionate suffering though physical and sexual abuse. For other, more advantaged women, hidden drug abuse may stem from manipulation by the advertising industry, inappropriate medication by physicians, or an attempt to cope with societal barriers to their own self-fulfillment.” What this means is that the very nature of being a woman can cause a woman to turn to drugs and/or alcohol in order to cope with these social and economic disparities. And because these disparities sometimes persist in the addiction treatment field, getting the right help at the right time can be difficult for young women who are addicted to drugs.

Young women who abuse and become addicted to drugs often fall victim to sexual predation and abuse. And because drugs are involved in these crimes, many women fail to report them to law enforcement authorities. Sexual coercion and extortion in exchange for drugs causes many women to become caught in a cycle of sex for drugs or money that often leads to unwanted pregnancies and/or sexually transmitted diseases like Chlamydia, AIDS and Herpes. Additionally, many women who become addicted to drugs suffer psychological damage that can be difficult or impossible to reverse. Young women who abuse substances – including alcohol – also face significant reproductive harm that could lie dormant for years.

Girls and young women who use drugs to the point of physical dependence often completely change their lifestyle in order to feed their growing habit. The true sign of addiction – continuation despite severe consequences – can result in the complete destruction of a woman’s education, career, family, financial status and ever her freedom if she were to be convicted of drug-related charges like possession or even trafficking. And because the corrections system is no place for a young girl, the abuse and sexual predation associated with drug addiction could very well follow them into the penal system.

The Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network states the following on their website: “… women who are dependent on substances experience different barriers to treatment entry, engagement and retention than their male counterparts.” According to the ATTCN, a woman will find it harder to get the right treatment than a man would. This point is backed by some in the addiction treatment industry that believe that of the total number of women who are addicted to drugs, far fewer of them will seek and receive professional treatment when compared to their male peers.

Because young women are generally perceived as more susceptible to the dangers associated with drug use and addiction, and because these same women will encounter more treatment obstacles than men, it’s important to understand these risks and mitigate them with education and prevention wherever possible. Treatment is available for anyone – man or woman – of any age and from any background. All you have to do is reach out for help.

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