Office of National Drug Control Policy

Women, Girls, Families, and Substance Abuse

Certain risk factors may make the female population vulnerable to substance use disorders. A three-year study on women and young girls (aged 8–22) revealed that girls and young women use substances for different reasons than boys and young men. The study found that risk factors such as low self-esteem, peer pressure, and depression make girls and young women more vulnerable to substance use as well as substance use disorders, in that females become dependent faster and suffer the consequences sooner, compared to males. (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, The Formative Years: Pathways to Substance Abuse Among Girls and Young Women Ages 8–22 (PDF) , February 2003).

Substance use is a growing problem among females. The 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that approximately 6.6% of women aged 12 and older reported past month use of an illicit drug. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), September 2010).

Women in the criminal justice system display an even higher rate of substance use. According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 59.3% of state and 47.6% of Federal female prisoners surveyed in 2004 indicated that they had used drugs in the month prior to their offense. Additionally, approximately 60.2% of state and 42.8% of Federal female prisoners surveyed in 2004 met drug dependence or abuse criteria.

Treatment and Research Information

  • Substance Abuse and Maternal Child Health - Research has shown that women who use illicit drugs while pregnant may suffer adverse consequences.  Family-based treatment and other programs help pregnant women and mothers get the help they need.
  • Women and Treatment - Because women face different obstacles when struggling with substance abuse, additional programs are needed to address these female-specific challenges.
  • Research and Resources - Get additonal information on data, research trends, and published articles.