Women and Substance Abuse in New Brunswick: Educational Priorities
by Judith Grant
Women represent only 16 percent of consumers of services and programs in the area of alcoholism and drug dependency in New Brunswick, but one third of all alcoholic or drug-dependent New Brunswickers are women.
Such a discrepancy is paralleled in the research literature. Alcoholism has long been considered a man's disease, and researchers contribute to this perception by using all-male or predominantly male samples in their investigations (1). Current research shows that women are also under-represented in chemical dependency treatment. Women account for only eight percent of research subjects in the field of drug addiction, though they comprise 20 to 25 percent of the narcotic addicted population, and the number is steadily growing (2).
Most research has also assumed that data based on findings from men can be applied to women. This is not the case. Alcohol has a much faster and more devastating affect on the health of women who drink, resulting in a death rate of three to seven times that of women who do not drink (compared to alcoholic men, whose death rate is twice that of non-alcoholic men). Heavy drinking also affects women's hormonal and reproductive systems. Menstrual periods and ovulation can become erratic as the production of various types of female hormones is altered. Anaemia, especially that due to deficiencies of iron and folic acid, is much more common in women drinkers than male drinkers by a ratio of three to one (3).
With such a discrepancy in the literature and a lack of understanding in the research, several important questions need to be asked concerning women and substance use/abuse: how and why do women become substance abusers, why do women not receive proper services from the appropriate agencies, why is there not more information available and research done about women, and why is there a need to educate the social service agencies, the general public and women themselves about substances?