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Opinion

Monday, 20 March 2017 | MYT 12:00 AM

Use different approaches for women drug users

WITH reference to the article “Gender gap in drug policy needs to be addressed” (The Star, March 17) by the president of the International Narcotics Control Board Werner Sip, it is a timely call for related agencies to recognize the unique challenges and specific needs of women drug users.

It has always been thought that men exhibit higher rates of drug abuse and dependence compared to women.

While this is true, the gap has narrowed in recent times in our country. There are more cases detected of women abusing drugs.

Women who end up as drug abusers and addicts usually have troubled lives.

Many would have grown up in an environment of alcohol or drug use in the family. Significant numbers of women addicts would have had a history of sexual abuse when young.

There have been reported cases of women being influenced to take drugs by their sexual partner.

Women who have low self-esteem and have little self-confidence are prone to be influenced to abuse substances.

This is especially so in the use of Amphetamine Type Stimulants (ATS) that are perceived to enhance sexual experience.

What is significant to note is that women are more susceptible to addiction compared to men.

The chemistry of the female body, particularly hormones like oestrogen, seems to awaken receptors for drugs inside the brain and transmit rapid and profound signals of pleasure.

This makes women more disposed to cravings and thereby become easily addicted.

The prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders is also higher in women compared to men. These conditions are also linked to substance and alcohol use.

This makes women more vulnerable to suffer from the consequences of abusing drugs and alcohol.

Women are less likely to than men to seek treatment as the social stigma they face is higher. In addition, if they have children, they are unlikely to seek professional help as they fear they may lose custody of their children.

Most drug abuse treatment models have been designed for men. However gender specific interventions tailored for women can address particular issues such as pregnancy, parenting, domestic violence, sexual trauma and psychiatric conditions.

For women, drug abuse and addiction is a complex social problem and not merely a habit that stems from a recreational need.

DATUK DR ANDREW MOHANRAJ

Consultant Psychiatrist & Deputy President

Malaysian Mental Health Association