Skip Navigation

International Women’s Day

For International Women’s Day we have gathered information about how substance misuse uniquely impacts on women.

At a societal level, substance misuse is a male dominated area. However, women face distinctive issues when it comes to substance use, which are influenced by sex (differences based on biology) and gender (differences based on culturally defined roles for men and women).Women often use substances differently than men, such as using smaller amounts of certain drugs for less time before they become addicted. Women will generally start drug use later than men, but development into addiction is quicker.

Women, substance use and dependency

• Women appear to be more vulnerable than men to the adverse effects of alcohol and drug misuse on physical health
• Females may be at more risk after taking MDMA. Further research is needed in this area
• More men use illicit drugs but research has found that  a greater number of women tend to misuse prescription drugs
• Women have been found to develop alcohol-related health problems earlier than men
• Women tend to experience more drug cravings are more likely to relapse after treatment
• Of those in treatment, women often need support for handling the burdens of work, home care, child care, and other family responsibilities
• Stigma can result in greater guilt and shame for women and for their families, and may lead to women being reluctant to seek treatment
• Relationships are important in women’s lives. Drug-using men can play a role in females drug use and continuation of drug use, including risk of relapse
• Women are generally more biologically susceptible than men to blood-borne infections. Women who use drugs also have gender-specific vulnerabilities to blood-borne infections (Pinkham et al., 2012).

Mental health

• While mental health difficulties affect both genders, it is widely accepted that women and men are affected by different problems and experience them in different ways
• Among the general population, women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. With female drug users experiencing high rates anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
• Women’s mental health may suffer due to stigma as a result of substance misuse
• In 2016, the female rate of self-harm  among the general population was 24% higher than the male rate
• Research in 2008 found that women (80%) are more likely than men (65%) to overdose on drugs as a method of deliberate self-harm


• Women might fear to get help for a substance use problem during or after pregnancy because of social or legal fears
• The creation of specialist Drug Liaison Midwife services helps assist in the reduction of the stigma associated with the treatment of pregnant female drug users, ease access to care for pregnant dependent women and help maintain care pathways once established. Learn about this service here:

Violence, assault and abuse

• Women are more likely to be affected by domestic and sexual violence. Women impacted by domestic violence are several times more likely to self-harm, be suicidal, and misuse drugs or alcohol
• Research has shown that a large proportion of women with substance use problems are victims of domestic violence as well as incest, rape, sexual assault and child physical abuse
• An Irish study found that 4 out of 15 women who did not report being raped, took this decision largely because of the alcohol/drugs they had consumed

Rates of use

• In 2016, 34.8 million women aged 15 to 64 are reported to have ever tried an illicit drug in the European Union

• Irish data shows an increase in female drug use. Data from 2014/15 shows that 4.9% of women reported using drugs compared to 3.6 in 2010/2011
• In 2014/15 both males and females showed increases in current cannabis and ecstasy use, with a greater increase recorded amongst females and younger people

For information and support on drugs and alcohol visit: or call the HSE Drugs and Alcohol Helpline on 1800 459 459 Monday to Friday 9:30 am - 5:30 pm

Posted by on 03/07 at 05:30 PM in
Share this:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Digg
  • LinkedIn
  • E-mail


Commenting is not available in this channel entry.
The HSE and Union of Students in Ireland (USI) ask students to think about drug safety measures when using club drugs
Harm reduction messages from the #SaferStudentNights campaign.
Poll Poll

Have you ever been impacted negatively by someone else's drug taking?