Changes in gender and addiction

imgres-1The worse women have it, the better off they are. This is the lesson we might draw from looking at one (and only one) global trend: reports that “Worldwide, women have always had lower rates of drug and alcohol use and dependence than men. Butas women’s access to opportunities grows along with a nation’s affluence, this gender gap begins to close. In fact, just as women often outstrip men in the classroom and office if given the chance, they have already forged ahead in the abuse of certain substances. It may not be the most celebratory way to mark International Women’s Day (March 8), but the fact is, equal rights have their penalties.

“In the US about 7% to 12% of women are dependent on alcohol—about two-thirds of men’s rate (20%). This gender gap is one of the smallest in the world, exceeded only by that in some European nations, where young women’s use of drugs is over 70% of men’s. By contrast, the gap in the developing world is much larger. In India, Pakistan and Indonesia, for example, women’s drug use is less than 10% of men’s. In Brazil and Argentina, women’s use is 33% of men’s. But as economic powerhouses like India and Brazil expand their middle class, they are also likely to assume other traits of developed nations: Rates of drug and alcohol use will rise across the board—but most of all for women.

“The gender gap has been shrinking since the ’70s as the stigma against women drinking (and abusing) alcohol has decreased while their access to booze has increased. Over the 20th century, smoking and drinking rates saw a gradual but steady rise among women—as women first in the upper class, next in the middle class, and finally in the lower class took up these habits. Affluence granted women more freedom and leisure time, but the rise in mass advertising of these products in after World War II also played a role.

“Susan E. Foster, vice president and director of policy research and analysis at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, notes that the rates of addiction accelerated in the ‘70s and ‘80s; since then rates have fallen for both sexes, but less for women, effectively diminishing the gender gap. The great wave of feminism emerging from the cultural revolution in the late ‘60s shattered traditions restricting female social roles and liberating women to participate in the male world. They were now able to work and drink with the boys.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *