Addictions for Women

John Gray

The causes of addictions for women are different than the causes of addictions for men. What helps a man, may not help a woman. You need to take this into consideration when you look for a solution to a certain addiction.

On a physical level, most addictions for women are caused by inhibited serotonin function. This is why more women are likely to have food addictions, exercise addictions and other compulsive behaviors, while more men are addicted to alcohol, heroin and cocaine. This is because these drugs encourage dopamine spikes.

The National Institute for Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse estimates that about 5.5 million women drink alcohol at levels that place their health at risk. Double that number for men. Alcohol abuse can result in liver damage, hepatitis, brain disease, breast cancer and heart disease.

When women have a problem of addiction or alcoholism, they are more likely to have deeper psychiatric problems like depression. Depression, which can stand alone or be a by-product of alcohol abuse, given alcohol's depressive effect on the central nervous system, impacted women at twice the rate of men, according to a national drug use and health study by The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and US Department of Health. The likelihood they were exposed to trauma is also usually higher.

Heroin and prescription drug addiction (many of which include heroin) are on the rise among affluent women, according to a 2014 survey from Caron Treatment Centers, parent company of the Hanley Center. Women cited anxiety (65 percent), depression (67 percent) and a critical internal voice (69 percent) as significant factors for their addiction. A critical internal voice is that subconscious inner monologue that says things like, "I'm not a good mother. I'm not going to be able to get well. How am I going to meet friends for drinks after work?"

Sadly, the major source of a woman's stress was their relationships. The top three stressors in the 2014 survey were relationships with parents and siblings (63 percent), romantic relationships (60 percent) and then work (49 percent).

Addiction, for both genders, impacts the brain's medial forebrain bundle. The median forebrain bundle is also known as the reward target of the body that gets activated whenever an individual engages in an activity perceived as pleasurable, like eating and sex. Physical changes to the brain, brought about by the release of dopamine when pleasure centers are tapped, can render people vulnerable to overuse.

Drugs cause the brain to release dopamine in a disproportional quantity compared to regular pleasurable activity like eating, having sex or exercising. Our brains are not built for such over-stimulation and as a result our pleasure centers of the brain require a larger hit to derive the same sensation every time. This is when addiction takes over.

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  • Guest_8D2A75E9-5
     3/3/2016 7:12:57 PM
    Awesome, awesome video Dr Gray!! I'm a health coach also who helps women with food addiction. Could you kindly recommend any additional readings / published research / places that i can look to dive deeper into this subject and touching on your findings? Thank you kindly in advance.
  • Madsmom
     2/26/2016 3:58:43 PM
    This hit home for me. I would love to hear John's advice for spouses to help their wives during recovery. I have been clean and working hard to earn respect and trust of my husband again.
  • Mamie
     1/12/2016 8:28:03 AM
    Great video presentation, Dr. Gary. I have a question ... I've been having a very long-time health issue -- a skin problem on the bottoms of my feet ... I use an OTC ointment -- Vitamins A&D Ointment, which really helps to heal the skin, but every day, they start itching, causing me to scratch them, break open some newly-formed scabs, and then I start picking at those scabs. Now, if I get my ice pack out and put my feet on it BEFORE I start scratching, then I'm okay ... the cold relieves and stops the itching so I don't scratch them. I am also taking another OTC remedy -- Turmeric -- to help calm the inflammation. I know this is an addition ... it's been going on for over five years!!!! The money I've spent on ointment, bandages and tape is beyond my calculation right now, but I'd guess over $1 thousand dollars in over five years! I'm just so tired of this. So, my question for you is do you have anything that will help to (1) break this addition; and (2) finally heal my feet without going through the itching phase? Thank you so much. I heard you on Monday morning, very early, on the radio with George Nori (sp?) ... but only caught the last 45 minutes of your discussion with him. I now have your website address and will keep it handy for future use. You can reach me at if you want, or I'll look for you answer here on your website. Thank you so much for your help with this! Mamie Wolf ...

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