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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Girls More Prone to Alcohol, Drug Abuse

Girls Get Hooked Faster, Suffer More Consequences
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 7, 2003 -- Girls may be more vulnerable to the effects of drug and alcohol abuse than boys and require personalized help to bounce back from addiction. A new study shows girls and young women get hooked faster and suffer the consequences of abuse and addiction sooner than boys and young men.

The report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) suggests that unisex prevention programs -- often designed with males in mind -- fail to reach millions of adolescent girls, and new public health efforts are needed to help young women stay away from tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs.

Researchers say that when it comes to drug and alcohol use, the gender gap between boys and girls is quickly narrowing. Despite recent declines in overall youth substance abuse, more than a quarter of high school girls smoke or binge drink, and a fifth use marijuana.

But researchers say girls' substance use can sink into abuse more quickly than boys and the health consequences are more severe in many cases. Early substance use also increases the odds that girls will smoke, drink, or abuse drugs in the future.

The report suggests that if the U.S. had prevention and treatment programs tailored to the needs of girls and young women, the number of adult women who abuse alcohol or drugs or smoke could have been reduced by about 25%. That reduction might have saved 1.1 million women from becoming alcoholics, 500,000 from drug abuse, and 8 million from smoking.

Researchers say girls face many unique risks that can make alcohol and drug use potentially more dangerous for them, for example:

  • Girls are more likely than boys to be depressed, have eating disorders, or be sexually or physically abused -- all of which can increase the likelihood of substance abuse.
  • Girls using alcohol and drugs are more likely to attempt suicide.
  • Substance use can lead to abuse and addiction more quickly for girls than boys even when using the same amount or less of a particular substance.
  • Girls are more susceptible to lung damage as a result of smoking and alcohol-induced brain damage.
  • Girls and young women who frequently use drugs or alcohol are more likely to engage in risky sex or be the victim of sexual assault.

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