Women and Methamphetamine Use
The ratios of men to women who use particular substances vary greatly and generally statistics show a significant trend toward more substance use by males for all classes of substances. For example, the ratio of men to women who use heroin is close to 3: 1 while the proportion of men to women users of cocaine tends to be two males for every one female. Methamphetamine, however, is significantly different and appears to be a substance of abuse and addiction that appeals to both men and women equally. That ratio of use along gender lines is close to 1:1. Similarly, admissions to treatment facilities for the use of methamphetamine are also approximately 50% women and 50% men.
While the numbers of men and women who use meth are similar, there are significant differences between men and women who use methamphetamine, however. Women who use methamphetamine are more likely to have certain characteristics and life circumstances that male users of meth do not. Some of these issues that women who use methamphetamine typically have are:
• a live-in partner who abuses substances
• a history of physical and sexual abuse
• a history of multiple suicide attempts
• introduction to methamphetamine by an intimate partner
• motivation to use methamphetamine by the desire for weight control
• more negative medical and role functioning consequences of use than men
• more frequent use
• habitual smoking of methamphetamine rather than use by inhalation or injection
• psychiatric methamphetamine-related symptoms, issues and conditions
For women, methamphetamine use and recovery seem intricately tied to relationship issues. It is typical that a woman addicted to meth will also have a partner who is similarly addicted. This social dynamic significantly complicates recovery efforts for women. For example, women who complete treatment for methamphetamine use, and return to partners who continue to use meth, are more likely to relapse than women who do not return to such relationships after treatment. On the other hand, women who successfully complete treatment and return to partners who are also in early recovery from methamphetamine use have fewer incidents of relapse.
Further gender differences in the world of methamphetamine addiction are that women who seek treatment for meth use are more likely to remain in treatment longer and to have longer periods of abstinence after treatment than men. Women addicted to methamphetamine, however, have many psychosocial stressors that complicate treatment and recovery that men do not. Some of these include pregnancy and the risks to unborn children; children and issues of non-protection; domestic violence and financial dependency upon others, particularly their partners who are apt to also be methamphetamine users and/or involved in criminal lifestyles.
Meth and Pregnancy
There are many severe consequences for the babies of women who use meth during pregnancy. Methamphetamine use during pregnancy has been shown to result in pre-mature delivery as well as birth defects. Meth use can affect development of vital organs of the fetus such as the brain, heart, stomach and kidneys. It can also cause skeletal abnormalities. Additionally, there have been cases of babies in utero experiencing strokes and brain hemorrhages due to the mother’s methamphetamine use.
Babies who were delivered at full-term but exposed to methamphetamine may have problems similar to premature babies such as, for example, low birth weight and difficulty sucking and swallowing. Also, meth-exposed babies may have difficulty tolerating light and touch and become unusually irritable, restless and inconsolable. As children, these babies tend to have learning disabilities, problems of inattention and hyperactivity as well as behavior problems related to anger and impulsivity.
Children and Non-protective Parenting
Children of addicted parents are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, malnutrition, truancy and medical neglect. Some children are chronically exposed to toxic chemicals in their homes if parents make meth. Therefore, many women with methamphetamine addiction are involved with child welfare agencies due to abuse and neglect of their children. Children living in such conditions are removed from their parents’ care and typically return (if at all) only after a significant period of recovery has been achieved.
Domestic Violence And Meth
Methamphetamine and other stimulants of abuse and addiction are known to cause increased levels of agitation, paranoia, and aggression. Incidents of violence increase significantly with meth use. Meth-related violence in domestic settings generally involves situations in which women are victimized by their partners.
Successful treatment of women for methamphetamine use may require helping them to extricate themselves from relationships with partners who continue to use meth, are involved in criminal lifestyles, batter their partners and have financial control over their partners. Consequently, many women will require assistance in securing shelter and financial independence if recovery is to be sustained. Additionally, women in treatment for methamphetamine use may also need support and guidance in negotiating the requirements of child protection agencies in order to plan for successful reunification with their children or to prevent further disruption of their families.