Ending Addiction for Good

Women and Prescription Drug Deaths

More women die from prescription drug overdose than cervical cancer or homicide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more women die from overdoses of pain killers than from cervical cancer or homicide. 48,000 women have died from accidental prescription pain killer overdoses from 1999-2010, a rate that is up 400%, compared with 265% among men. The New York Times reports, “While younger women in their 20s and 30s tend to have the highest rates of opioid abuse, the overdose death rate was highest among women ages 45 to 54….”


What’s most troubling is that many of these women do not realize that they have a problem. They’re trying to do everything – work, get their children to activities, keep up the house, often without much if any assistance from other adults – and when they get injured, they end up on prescription pain medications. Unfortunately, far too many die before they seek help.


There are documented differences between the genders with regard to how addiction develops. Women are likely to start abusing substances when they are older than men, but their abuse tends to develop into addiction more rapidly than with men. Additionally, women are less likely to seek treatment than men. And while women are more likely to relapse post-treatment than men, we can use the reasons they abuse substances to our advantage in treatment. Women use drugs most often to deal with stress and regulate mood. In a setting that focuses on psychotherapy and holistic health, there are many opportunities to teach women how to deal with these issues in more positive and healthy ways, ways that will help prevent relapse and provide lasting recovery.


The good news is that women who realize they have a problem with prescription drug addiction tend to be highly motivated to recover. Women with children often want to get better for their kids. They hate being separated from them and see the pain that addiction causes their children. This is important, because we can use this motivation in the tougher times, helping them to recover and get back to being a positive role model in their families.


Constance Scharff, Ph.D. is the Senior Addiction Research Fellow and Director of Addiction Research at Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center.


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