A consideration of the rates of substance abuse among women, and as compared to men, can provide insight into the general level of risk based on one’s sex status. By extension, the usefulness of this information carries over to the subset of pregnant women, although there are separate statistics on the latter group as well.
Per the results of the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the following data opens a window into the prevalence of drug abuse among females versus males:
- In the month prior to the survey, in the 12+ age group, current drug use among males was greater than among females (11.5 percent versus 7.3 percent).
- In terms of initiation into drug use, based on a 12-month survey review, 58.3 percent of the group of individuals who newly used drugs were female.
- Regarding alcohol consumption, in the 12+ age group, the percentage of males and females who were current drinkers was similar (57.1 percent versus 47.5 percent).
- Among Americans in the 12+ age group, males were more likely than females to drive under the influence (14.1 percent versus 7.9 percent).
With the exception of alcohol use, it appears that males are generally more at risk of drug use (and the attendant risky behaviors like DUI) than females. Of the females who abuse drugs, compared to males, they may have unique needs based on background circumstances. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse discusses, the following are some social factors that are likely to be prevalent among females who use drugs compared to males who engage in drug use:
- Lower level of educational attainment (i.e., not having completed high school)
- Greater rate of unemployment
- Health problems other than substance abuse
- Higher incidence of prior suicide attempts
- Greater likelihood of having experienced physical or sexual abuse
Pregnancy and Substance Abuse
The informational site Get the Facts provides data on the rates of substance abuse among pregnant females. The most recent data available was averaged over the years 2012-2013 and took into account different age groups as well as trimesters. The data collected reflects the following:
A pregnant female shares a placenta and umbilical cord with the fetus. From a biological standpoint, drugs impact body functions of both the fetus and the mother. The harm that may result from drug abuse depends on different contributing factors, including the type of drugs present, the point in pregnancy during which the drug use commenced, and the frequency of use.
As pregnancy is a unique health condition, the very fact of being with child can cause biological changes that make some drugs more harmful to the mother’s body and the fetus by extension. Further, fetuses have their own unique biological status. A fetus is highly sensitive to drugs and cannot eliminate them with the same proficiency as the mother. As a result, drugs can reach toxic levels in the body of a fetus in addition to causing a host of other health problems.