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When thinking about drug addiction, many of us have an unrealistic image of the problem and those affected. We often assume it involves only the hard stuff, like heroin or crack. We imagine someone suffering from addiction will look disheveled and unkempt and will commit crimes to sustain a desperate habit. While such descriptions may accurately describe some who wrestle with addiction, they tell only a fraction of the story.
The typical perception of addiction does not match the devastating reality taking place in our country. There is a growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse, and it is increasing dramatically among women.
From mothers and homemakers to managers and business executives, millions of women are facing the challenges of addiction. They go about their day, perform their jobs, care for their children and appear to be just like everyone else. But they are dependent on pain medications that are taking a terrible toll.
Addiction to prescribed medications is not unique to women. The problem is also prevalent among men, who are two to three times more likely than women to have a drug abuse disorder. However, recent studies indicate an alarming escalation of substance abuse and addiction among women. Information provided by the Centers for Disease Control shows the tragic consequences of this disturbing trend:
Prescription painkiller abuse and overdoses are a serious problem, and there are many complex factors contributing to the rise of these issues among women. Studies documenting differences between the genders have begun to shed light on the development of addiction. Research on sex differences in drug abuse patterns seems to indicate:
This research is still in its infancy. Empirical data is lacking in many specifics, which makes it difficult to formulate definitive conclusions. Ongoing investigation about the specific underlying causes and mechanisms of sex differences will help improve treatment and understanding of drug abuse in both females and males.
The increasing trend for abusing painkillers among woman also creates an additional problem that affects those with legitimate need for pain management. In light of the abuse statistics, many people, often including the physicians and patients themselves, fear that anyone taking opioid medications on a long-term basis will necessarily become addicted. Sadly, this leads to pain patients being wrongly identified as drug seekers and stigmatized for their use of opioid medications.
This widespread misunderstanding of the difference between physical dependence on a drug and addiction has become a frequent and sometimes devastating obstacle for those suffering from chronic pain.