<strong>How does Gender Affect Substance Use?</strong>

How does Gender Affect Substance Use?

While the health risks of substances don’t discriminate by gender, addiction risks are different for male and female teens. Research has found that the sex of an individual affects their likelihood for addiction as well as the type of substances they are more likely to become addicted to. Understanding these differences can help teens better understand their own risk and help parents, educators, and community leaders develop more targeted prevention strategies.

Substance Use and Addiction

Substance use among adolescents has the potential to lead to addiction, but addiction rates vary by age and sex of the substance user. Boys and girls have similar ages of onset of substance use. Adolescent girls and boys tend to engage in substance use at the same rates, but adult men have higher rates of substance dependence and use of illicit drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NID). However, women’s substance use disorders tend to be more severe and pose an increased likelihood of relapse.

Furthermore, multiple studies have found environmental factors differently impact substance use in adolescent boys and girls. European studies conducted in 2018 and 2019 indicated that substance disorder among adolescent girls is associated with difficult family dynamics, unstable childhoods, and mental health problems. Girls with substance use disorders are also more likely to have endured physical or sexual violence at a young age. Boys with substance use disorder are more likely to have committed a crime or an act of violence.

Types of Substances Used

The types of substances that teens use are also correlated to sex. NID reports that alcohol is the most common substance used among both adolescent girls and boys, but girls between 12-17 years old have a slightly higher rate of alcohol use. Following alcohol, boys are significantly more likely to engage in marijuana use, while girls have higher rates of prescription drug misuse. Girls are also more likely to use more than one type of drug, which may be a reason girls and women tend to have more severe addictions.


Boys receive more referrals to treatment at younger ages than girls, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). However, while boys tend to be referred, girls and women who receive treatment often seek it themselves. While the causal link for this is not clear, Andenberg and Dahlberg (2018) conjecture that girls are socialized to internalize their problems more than boys, leading them to appear less in need of support than they actually are.


Acknowledging that adolescent boys and girls can have different experiences with regard to substance use is important in identifying effective prevention strategies. While studies show there are different tendencies based on gender, it is imperative that a constant approach to prevention is incorporated into schools ad communities. Parents and educators should learn the risk factors and warning signs of substance use among teens of any gender to keep their community healthy and safe from the dangers of drug use.

Drug Free Clubs of America is on a mission to reduce the impacts of drug use in youth. Across the nation, drug and alcohol use is on the rise among teens. We provide students with practical tools and techniques to navigate peer pressure and choose a healthy lifestyle. Partnering with schools and communities, we offer preventative programming to meet students where they are. Through randomized drug testing, educational resources, a positive outlet, and a supportive community, we are changing school cultures and reducing alcohol, marijuana, vaping, and other detrimental activities among our members and the entire school body. Drug Free Clubs of America has over 5,000 student and faculty/staff members and Clubs in over 50 schools in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

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