Women face unique issues when it comes to substance use, in part influenced by:
· *Sex—differences based on biology
· *Gender—differences based on culturally defined roles for men and women ·
Scientists who study substance use have discovered that women who use drugs can have issues related to hormones, menstrual cycle, fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause. In addition, women themselves describe unique reasons for using drugs, including controlling weight, fighting exhaustion, coping with pain, and attempts to self-treat mental health problems.
Science has also found that:
19.5 million females (or 15.4 percent) ages 18 or older have used illicit* drugs in the past year.1 *The term “illicit” refers to the use of illegal drugs, including marijuana according to federal law, and misuse of prescription medications.
· Women often use substances differently than men, such as using smaller amounts of certain drugs for less time before they become addicted.
· Women can respond to substances differently. For example, they may have more drug cravings and may be more likely to relapse after treatment.
· Sex hormones can make women more sensitive than men to the effects of some drugs.
· Women who use drugs may also experience more physical effects on their heart and blood vessels.
· Brain changes in women who use drugs can be different from those in men.
· Women may be more likely to go to the emergency room or die from overdose or other effects of certain substances.
· Women who are victims of domestic violence are at increased risk of substance use.
· Divorce, loss of child custody, or the death of a partner or child can trigger women’s substance use or other mental health disorders.
· Women who use certain substances may be more likely to have panic attacks, anxiety, or depression.
Substance Use While Pregnant and Breastfeeding
8.4 million females (or 6.6 percent) ages 18 and older have misused prescription drugs in the past year.1
The number of women with opioid use disorder at labor and delivery quadrupled from 1999-2014.3
Substance use during pregnancy can be risky to the woman’s health and that of her children in both the short and long term. Most drugs, including opioids and stimulants, could potentially harm an unborn baby. Use of some substances can increase the risk of miscarriage and can cause migraines, seizures, or high blood pressure in the mother, which may
affect her fetus. In addition, the risk of stillbirth is 2 to 3 times greater in women who smoke tobacco or marijuana, take prescription pain relievers, or use illegal drugs during pregnancy.2 Surveys suggest that more women are using marijuana during pregnancy, which has health professionals concerned. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) suggests that marijuana can result in smaller babies, especially in women who use marijuana frequently in the first and second trimesters. ACOG recommends that pregnant women or women wanting to get pregnant should stop using marijuana, even if it is for medical purposes, and discuss options with their doctors that will be healthier for their babies.4Pregnant women should check with their health care provider before using any medicines or substances.
When a woman uses some drugs regularly during pregnancy, the baby can go through withdrawal after birth, a condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Research has shown that NAS can occur with a pregnant woman’s use of opioids, alcohol, caffeine, and some prescription sedatives. The type and severity of a baby’s withdrawal symptoms depend on the drug(s) used, how long and how often the mother used, how her body breaks down the drug, and if the baby was born full-term or prematurely.
Symptoms of NAS in a newborn can develop immediately or up to 14 days after birth. Some of these symptoms include:
· blotchy skin coloring
· excessive or high-pitched crying
· increased heart rate
· poor feeding
· rapid breathing
· sleep problems
· slow weight gain
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