What are the Heroin Addiction Rates in Women?

Between 2016 and 2017, heroin addiction rates increased in demographic groups that had historically low levels of heroin addiction. Those groups included women, people with private health insurance, and people with higher than average incomes. In fact, heroin rates in young, suburban white women rose the fastest. What makes the problem even worse is that people who are becoming addicted to heroin are abusing other drugs too. Nine out of ten heroin addicts are polydrug abusers.

The detox and rehabilitation needs of women and polydrug abusers are different than for men addicted to heroin, or for people who are only addicted to one drug. Although heroin addiction is incredibly intense and dangerous, thousands of people get help for their disorder and go on to achieve sobriety.

Heroin Addition Rates in Women
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Prescription opioid and heroin addiction have increased across all demographic groups in the U.S. The opioid addiction has reached epidemic levels, and the U.S. government has declared the situation as a state of emergency. Although heroin addiction rate increases have touched all age, income, and racial groups, some demographic groups have seen higher rate increases than others. People who have typically had lower rates of heroin addiction are becoming hooked on heroin in higher numbers. The upper middle class, white women, people ages 18 to 25, and people living in the suburbs have had the most substantial increases in addiction rates. People who abuse the drug are also likely to be addicted to prescription opioids, and cocaine. Up to 45% of people addicted to heroin are also addicted to a prescription opioid.

Before the opioid epidemic, women with an addiction to an opiate fell into two distinct categories – those who were addicted to illicit street heroin, and women addicted to prescription painkillers. Before the early 2000s, women addicted to heroin were often black, urban, and often unemployed or on welfare. Addiction to heroin in these demographics was usually related to childhood abuse, neglect, and lack of opportunity for inner-city women of color. Today, heroin addiction is more likely to strike white, suburban women in professional jobs.

Heroin addiction in women today tends to start as a dependence on prescription pills. Many women will take a prescription opioid for an acute pain condition, before becoming dependent. If a legal supply of prescription opioids runs out, women are at risk of turning to the street to supply their addiction and prevent painful withdrawal symptoms. Women will often purchase prescription painkillers off the street. But, prescription drugs sold on the black market are more expensive than street heroin. Money, and sometimes access are usually the biggest drivers of women turning to heroin today.

How do women’s rates of heroin addiction differ from men’s rates?

There are several notable differences in the genders when it comes to addiction and substance abuse. Both men and women are just as likely to develop substance use disorder. However, the type of drugs they use, why they use them, and how they use them are different for men and women. Women are also at higher risk of craving drugs after initial sobriety and tend to have higher relapse rates than men. Also, women face unique barriers to addiction treatment. The CDC has found that heroin addiction rates more than doubled for women between 2002 and 2013, at twice the rate of men. When it comes to heroin addiction, there are several significant differences between men and women.

For example, women are more likely than men to be influenced by drug-abusing partners. Women addicted to heroin will use it less frequently than men, in smaller quantities, and are less likely to inject the drug. Women who inject heroin will do it more from peer pressure or because of the encouragement of a boyfriend or husband. Women who inject heroin are also at higher risk of fatally overdosing than men in the first few years of injecting heroin. The reasons for this are mostly tied to the fact that women are more likely than men to abuse prescription opioids at the same time. But research shows that women who survive the first several years of heroin injection are more likely than their male counterparts to survive long-term.

How does treatment for heroin addiction differ for women?

Because women are at higher risk of cravings and relapse, they often need more intensive and integrated aftercare treatment programs than men. Also, women are more likely than men to be the primary caregivers of minor children and elderly family members. Women are also more likely to be single-parent breadwinners than men. It is often not possible for these women to find access to reliable and affordable childcare and eldercare professionals. For many women suffering from heroin and opioid addiction, intensive, inpatient rehab is often not possible.

Instead, women addicted to heroin can significantly benefit from a tailored, intensive outpatient treatment program. These programs allow women to continue working and caring for children or elderly parents while attending a part-time rehab program. Female patients in intensive outpatient treatment can live at home. They have access to experienced doctors, and counselors, and can go through a medically-assisted detox while still living at home and fulfilling their usual responsibilities. Outpatient treatment programs are tailored to the individual, and patients can attend the program anywhere from 12 hours per week up to 30 hours per week. Treatment plans will depend on the individual’s needs and circumstances. Outpatient programs combine medical detox, one-on-one therapy, and family therapy sessions, too. Patients will have access to a variety of different talk therapies that can meet their specific needs, and help them achieve and maintain sobriety from heroin and opioid drugs.

Are you or a family member addicted to heroin or opioids? You’re not alone in your struggle. The experienced and caring doctors and counselors at Windward Way have helped thousands of women quit heroin and prescription opioids. Please contact Windward Way today to learn more about their rehabilitation and detox programs.


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