Addiction affects all types of people across all socioeconomic classes, ethnicities and genders. Addiction can impact men and women differently however, and it follows gender-specific treatment should be used to address these differences.

How Addiction Impacts Life for Men

Reproductive System

Numerous studies show that alcohol abuse in men can impair testosterone production and shrink the testicles. These changes may result in impotence, infertility and a reduction of secondary male sex characteristics. The side effects of these changes include reduced facial and chest hair, breast enlargement and a shift of fat in the body.

Legal Problems and Crime

A majority of research has found that men are more likely than women to have legal problems when they have substance abuse problems. The data show that men had more arrests than women. It also showed the arrests for men were for more serious crimes, such as robbery and assault, while women were arrested for crimes such as prostitution. The results added up to men with addiction problems having more serious criminal histories than women with addiction problems.

How Addiction Impacts Life for Women

Drinking and Driving

Women absorb alcohol more quickly than men do. Since it takes less alcohol to impair a woman’s ability to drive, drinking impacts a woman’s risk for a DUI or fatal car crash more than a man’s. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that the odds of a female being killed in a single-vehicle crash increase at a blood alcohol level that a 140-pound woman can reach after having only one drink on an empty stomach.


Women are more likely to get pregnant when they are in their twenties and thirties. These age groups face the greatest risk of having babies with fetal alcohol syndrome. FAS is caused by drinking during pregnancy and causes growth and mental impairments.

Breast Cancer

Studies suggest that one drink a day can slightly increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Particularly at risk are women who are postmenopausal or who have a history of breast cancer in the family.

How Gender-Specific Treatment Helps Men and Women Focus on Recovery

Gender-specific treatment options are most effective for treating addiction.

Women: Women who have suffered sexual abuse can benefit from women’s groups when discussing trauma and how it relates to their substance use disorder. Since the majority of women were sexually abused by males, the all-female group gives them a safe environment to discuss past trauma.

Men: An all-male treatment group benefits men whose addiction started with peer pressure from male friends when they were teenagers. Other men in the group will understand male peer pressure, and many probably had similar experiences.

Both: For heterosexual men and women, treatment in a gender-specific setting eliminates one important factor that can sabotage recovery: the lure of romantic relationships. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends a rule of no romantic involvement among members of a treatment group. Romance can disrupt treatment for either partner.

In each case, the dynamics are gender-sensitive. Gender-specific therapies are recommended to treat gender-sensitive issues.