Depression has become more widespread than ever, particularly after COVID-19 created a global mental health crisis. Historically, women are more susceptible to depression at an average rate of two-to-one when compared with men. While researchers are not sure if that is wholly accurate, as men are less likely to seek treatment for depression, it is widely acknowledged that women struggle with depression at a higher rate than men.
Such a high prevalence of depression can increase the number of women who abuse substances, particularly those who struggle with chronic alcoholism. Much of the research about addiction in the past focused on men. With more awareness of the connection between depression and addiction, it is worth looking at why depression is more common among women.
Why Are Women More Likely to Struggle with Depression?
Depression has many causes, including both genetic and environmental influences. Some of the factors that women face that are unique to their gender or statistically much higher than for men include:
- Hormones – One of the most common causes of depression is hormones. Women have higher levels of the hormone estrogen, as well as higher fluctuations of the hormone. Estrogen is the primary hormone associated with mood swings in women related to conditions such as postpartum depression, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). The significant drops of estrogen and progesterone that correspond with menopause can also be a cause of depression.
- Abuse – Abuse of women occurs at a much higher rate than does abuse of men, whether emotional, psychological, financial, physical or sexual. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- One in five women will be raped at some point in their lifetime, compared to one in 71 men.
- Out of every four women, one has experienced serious physical violence from their partner, nearly double the rate of one in seven among men.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Women are also at higher risk of PTSD due to the higher levels of abuse and trauma suffered. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) cites that 10% of women will have PTSD compared with 4% of men.
- Chronic illness – Serious injuries and chronic illnesses are common causes of depression. Women who have been abused are at higher risk for diseases like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), heart disease, certain forms of cancer and more.
- Eating disorders – Depression is commonly linked with eating disorders. Women are significantly more likely to have an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, than men.
Why Are Women with Depression More Likely to Abuse Substances?
The most common reason that women with depression abuse drugs or alcohol is to self-medicate. Drinking or using drugs can be an attempt to escape the emotional pain of depression. There are also studies that examine how depression and substance abuse share genetic and neurobiological factors, making women with depression more susceptible to substance abuse.
While women may use one or more substances, the most common substance that women use is alcohol. What happens when you drink alcohol every day? You develop an addiction to alcohol or chronic alcohol use disorder. What happens when you become addicted to alcohol? You are more likely to be depressed. It is a vicious cycle that is difficult to break on your own.
Can Depression and Addiction Be Treated?
When there is substance use and a mental health diagnosis like depression, treatment can be more challenging. However, women can receive treatment for both. The most important ingredient for successful treatment is to treat both substance abuse and depression simultaneously.
Ultimately, healing the source of both your depression and substance abuse will provide the most success. Within treatment, you will be able to address the physical, mental and emotional factors that caused your depression and substance use disorder. Once you have achieved sobriety, your recovery will also address both depression and addiction.
There are many physical, genetic and environmental reasons that women are more likely than men to struggle with depression. Sometimes depression can lead to substance use. Women are a particular focus at DiscoveryMD. We understand the challenges that impact women. At our outpatient treatment program, we offer special groups for women to help them heal from such gender-specific challenges. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help pull you out of depression and substance abuse.