Gender & Age Makes A Difference When Choosing A Drug To Abuse

Gender & Age Makes A Difference When Choosing A Drug To Abuse

Written by Dr. Cory Reich, Ph.D., Posted on , in Section Editors Picks

Does gender and age relate to the drug of choice? National data consistently demonstrates that it indeed does. Data indicates that age and gender is an important factor when assessing patterns of substance abuse, especially as it relates to prevalence rates and substances of choice. In a recent article by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), posted in the TEDS Report, national data provides valuable information regarding gender differences in primary substance of abuse across age groups.

For example, the report identified that males are more likely than females to report marijuana and alcohol use, whereas females are more likely than males to report nonmedical use of prescription drugs. Additionally, differences in substance abuse patterns among men and women vary by age. Men that are 18 years of age and older are almost twice the rate of substance dependence as adult women, however, among youth age 12 to 17, the rate of substance dependence for both genders is the same.

Difference In Drug of Choice

Data analyses by gender and age targeted six of the most commonly reported substances of abuse: alcohol, marijuana, heroin, prescription pain relievers, cocaine, and methamphetamine/amphetamines. Of these six substances, four demonstrated significant gender differences in at least one age group. The four were alcohol, marijuana, prescription pain relievers, and methamphetamine/amphetamines.

Alcohol & Marijuana

Females, in the age group of 12 to 17, reported alcohol as their primary substance of abuse. However, the pattern changed with age, when age groups changed to 25 to 34, males reported higher alcohol as the primary drug of choice.

Males, in the age group of 12 to 17 and the 18 to 24, reported marijuana as the primary drug of choice. Interestingly, the male dominated use of marijuana changed after age 25, demonstrating no significant variance with gender and age in marijuana reports being the drug of choice.


The SAMHSA article reports that while methamphetamine/amphetamine use was low for both genders upon admissions, yet there was a gender difference in the 18 to 24 age group. Females reported greater primary methamphetamine/amphetamine abuse, albeit still low comparatively speaking to other drug use choices.


Understanding how age interacts with gender in drug choice and dependency is invaluable as it relates both to education and preventative efforts as well as the design of treatment programs. Programs that cater to specific ages and gender can design programming and anticipate clinical issues that focus on specific drugs and risks.

Outreach efforts may for example, focus on educating and addressing marijuana use and abuse, specifically targeted towards younger men. Conversely, when working with at risk women in the age group of 18 to 24, the focus would be able to address risk of methamphetamine/amphetamine abuse and dependence. This age group initiates use more than men, and due to physiological factors demonstrate greater risk for dependence. Moreover, programming that identifies that while females abuse pain relievers is higher than men across all age groups, both demonstrate a significant increase from 12 to 34, yet continue to display abuse throughout the lifespan.

Continued efforts that provide greater understanding of age and gender across the lifespan will increase our ability to reach at risk populations specific to gender and age. It will also allow for greater specializations in those who work with specific populations in drug treatment programs.


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