Statement to the Commission on the Status of Women’s 64th Session

Alcohol- and drug-related diseases have drastically spread over the past few decades, and no country is immune to their significant human and financial consequences. Although men appear to have a higher rate of substance use disorders than women, the physical and emotional effects can be more severe in women.

The stigma and discrimination towards female drug users impede effective treatment. On the one hand, they are criticized for using drugs or having an addiction problem and for failing to uphold the gender-related expectations placed on them (double stigma). Stigma impacts people more due to their attempts to deal with these circumstances. Most addiction treatment programs are built on an androcentric premise that does not satisfy the needs of everyone and creates barriers to treatment. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, barely one out of every five people receiving drug abuse treatment are women.

Women have particular problems with substance abuse and addiction that are primarily impacted by sex (biological differences) and gender (differences based on culturally-defined roles for men and women). Studies on substance abuse and addiction problems in women have discovered, among other things,

Most women use drugs differently than males, using lesser amounts of some medications for shorter periods before developing a drug addiction or use disorder.

Because gender perspectives aren’t consistently implemented in drug treatment services, women who attend treatment programs may feel more uneasy and unmotivated because their needs aren’t fully met. They are also more likely to relapse after treatment is over due to a lack of social support and financial issues.

Due to the invisibilization of women’s problematic drug use, women may be more likely to visit the emergency department, pass away from an overdose, or suffer other substance-related effects. Disorders are often discovered much later in the course of drug use and may take longer to treat.

Women who experience gender-based violence are more likely to use drugs.

Due to gender indoctrination and social expectations that women should be in charge of caring for others, events like divorce, losing custody of children, or the death of a partner or child can cause women to turn to drugs or develop other mental health illnesses.

Repressive drug regulations have a disproportionately negative effect on women. For non-violent drug offenses, women are disproportionately imprisoned throughout Europe, Asia, and Latin America. These women frequently live in abject poverty, have no formal education, and have few opportunities in the licit economy. In some instances, women, especially those from ethnic minority communities, are forced to participate in the illicit drug market.

Numerous non-governmental organizations throughout Eurasia have collected evidence of frequent sexual assault and police violence against drug-using women. The mainstreaming of a gender perspective in drug treatment and prevention programs, as well as the development of alternative drug policies founded on gender equality and women’s empowerment, is crucial to addressing the disproportionate effects of repressive drug control policies on women and ensuring the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal number 5.

People with substance use disorder may find it challenging to stop using. Still, women, in particular, may be reluctant to seek treatment out of concern that they will be stigmatized and viewed as deviants for not being able to fulfill the traditional expectations placed on them as wives, mothers, and family nurturers. Additionally, due to potential legal or societal concerns, lack of child care while receiving therapy, and other factors, women face unique structural, social, and personal hurdles to treatment during or after pregnancy. Women in medicine frequently require assistance in managing the demands of work, home care, child care, and other family responsibilities. Still, they often do not get it and must leave treatment. This is not due to a lack of motivation but rather to the intense societal pressure to look after others.