Women + Substances: 6 Signs You May Have a Substance Use Disorder

September 16, 2021

September is National Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery Month!  While we love to raise awareness, we recognize how addictions can be riddled with stigmas and judgments. For women in particular–with any type of addiction– we can often judge ourselves harshly. At times, this internalized stigma may present a barrier to recognizing if we may be struggling with a substance use disorder.  How do we even begin to recognize, for example,  when we may be relying on those glasses of wine–a little too much? Where is that line between substance use and a substance use disorder? It is important to note that there are many women who may use substances and not have a substance use disorder. Keep reading to learn ways to recognize the difference.  

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2019, 5.5 million women ages 12 and over had an alcohol use disorder. Also in 2019, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations (SAHMSA) found that 4.6 million women misused prescription pain relievers within the past year. Within the past month, 8.6 million women ages 26 and older report Marijuana use.

Substance use is described by many women to be for the purposes of coping with stress, emotional pain, or mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. When used for the latter purposes, substances may decrease distress at the moment, yet present a barrier to developing longer-lasting and alternative methods of coping. In some cases, using substances to manage psychological and emotional symptoms may actually worsen them. Research has also shown that substance use in women tends to develop into addiction more quickly than men and can involve denial, fear, secrecy, and shame.

When it comes to the pandemic, we have seen one of the effects to be rising alcohol use by women for stress management. Research by Pollard and others (2020) found that women’s heavy drinking days  (4 or more drinks in one sitting) increased by 41% compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

Knowing when your substance use is problematic is not always so clear— That is why we want to help you know what to keep an eye out for. If you have ever wondered if you may be experiencing a substance abuse disorder, here are 6 signs to be attentive to:

  1. Loss of Control: You experience a loss of control when drinking alcohol or using a substance, even if you want to stop. You may tell yourself that you are only going to use a certain amount, and then you end up using a lot more than intended. 
  1. Disruptions in Functioning: You have had problems in your work, home, social, or school life because of your drug or alcohol use. You may have difficulty completing tasks that are required of you in all of these settings. 
  1. Time Spent: You spend a lot of your time thinking about the substance (e.g. how to get more of it, when you will be using it next, or how good you will feel). 
  1. You feel guilty or angry when family members, friends, or coworkers bring up their concerns regarding your substance use.
  1. Tolerance: You have to use more of the substance to get the same effect. This is called Tolerance 
  1. You have tried to quit, cut back, or take a break, and have not been successful.

If you answer yes to any of these, we want to encourage you to seek professional assistance with a therapist, addiction specialist, or healthcare provider for further assessment and evaluation. Rising Woman, support is available.  If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction or substance use disorder, know that recovery is possible and support is available. For those in active recovery, we celebrate you—wherever you are on your journey

For confidential free help to find substance use treatment and information, you can call the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-HELP (4357) SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.


SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Table 2.18B – Alcohol Use in Past Year among Persons Aged 12 or Older, by Age Group and Demographic Characteristics: Percentages, 2018 and 2019. 

Pollard MS, Tucker JS, Green HD. Changes in Adult Alcohol Use and Consequences During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2022942. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.22942

*Please Note: The information provided on or through this website or blog is for educational and informational purposes only and solely as a self-help tool for your own use. Engaging with this material does not constitute a client/therapist relationship*


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