Do Men and Women Metabolize Drugs Differently?

Posted in: Drug Abuse

May 13, 2015

A man and woman icon

A lot of people think that drugs affect each user in similar ways. They think that if a drug has specific potential side effects, then most people who take that drug will experience those side effects in specific and predictable ways. However, while most drugs affect men and women in similar ways, male and female bodies metabolize some types of drugs differently. These differences can range from mild to severe, but should be carefully considered before a person uses any type of substance that could be metabolized differently depending on the person’s sex.

Differences in Drug Effects for Men and Women

Most drugs have similar effects on a person’s body regardless of sex. But scientists have recently realized that for some drugs, sex makes a significant difference. Specifically, some drugs are metabolized more slowly in women than in men. One example, as Sandra L. Kweder describes, is the sleep aid medication zolpidem, which the Federal Drug Administration has found stays in a woman’s system longer than in a man’s. Kweder also points out that some drugs that work well for one sex have no effect on the other sex. Two examples that Kweder gives are:

  • Alosetron: this drug treats irritable bowel syndrome for women, but has no beneficial effect on men.
  • Balsalazide: this drug treats ulcerative colitis in adult men, but isn’t effective for women.

Each drug a user takes has a complex interaction with his or her own body and brain chemistry and it is risky to assume that all drugs will produce identical results in all users.

Differences in Alcohol Effects for Men and Women

Alcohol is another substance that is metabolized differently in men and women. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) explains that alcohol is processed by the water in the body, and bodies with more water can metabolize alcohol faster. Since men, on average, weigh more than women, and since women have less water per pound in their bodies, it takes longer for women to metabolize alcohol. Because of this, as the NIAAA states, women’s bodies are exposed to more alcohol for longer periods of time, which over time can cause health problems such as:

  • Brain damage
  • Cancer, especially those related to the breasts, head and neck
  • Heart disease
  • Immune system suppression
  • Liver disease

Women may assume that their alcohol consumption is at a safe limit without considering the different effects alcohol has on their health depending on their weight, body chemistry and personal risk factors.

Differences in Substance Use Patterns for Men and Women

Not only do women’s bodies process certain substances differently than men’s bodies, but they also tend to use substances in different patterns than men do. point out that men are two to three times more likely than women to develop a substance use disorder. Carla A. Green also explains that while women use drugs, drink alcohol and develop substance abuse problems less often than men, problems that do develop in women are often more severe than those experienced by men. Green goes on to report that women are more likely than men to seek out treatment. Furthermore, women who complete treatment are nine times more likely to be abstinent compared with women who don’t receive treatment. Men who receive treatment, on the other hand, are only three times more likely to be abstinent than men who don’t.

Get More Information About Drug Use for Men and Women

If you find yourself struggling with a substance use disorder, it is important to seek professional treatment. Give us a call at 615-490-9376 today.

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