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Triple Jeopardy: Women Marginalized by Substance Abuse, Poverty, and Incarceration (From Women at the Margins: Neglect, Punishment, and Resistance, P 175-202, 2002, Josefina Figueira-McDonough and Rosemary C. Sarri, eds. -- See NCJ-197190)

NCJ Number
Anna C. Burke
Date Published
28 pages
This chapter reviews the evidence from epidemiological and etiological studies to provide the best available documentation on the nature and extent of alcohol and other drug (AOD) use and abuse among women, with attention to differences in AOD use and abuse between men and women, as well as differences in women's access to and use of prevention and treatment services.
Evidence on substance use and abuse among women suggests that the onset, course, and outcome of AOD-related problems among many women is rooted in a cycle that begins with their initial victimization, typically in childhood. This personal victimization may be reinforced and even amplified by exposure to more general forms of violence and victimization directed at women as a category of persons. Women who abuse substances are further disadvantaged by the stigma placed on women who use or abuse substances. Epidemiological data suggest that AOD use is common among women, especially among teens; some evidence indicates that women are more susceptible to negative consequences of use. The impact of substance use on women also apparently changes with age, with indications that women over 59 are particularly vulnerable to alcohol abuse and the addictive properties of psychoactive prescription medications. In comparing the addiction careers of men and women, apparently women with substance abuse problems are more likely than men to be unemployed; to be less educated; and have fewer marketable skills, fewer work experiences, and fewer resources available to them. Women with substance abuse disorders are more likely than men to use drugs in isolation. Women are also more likely than men to express symptoms indicative of a coexisting disorder such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder, personality disorder, eating disorders, or posttraumatic stress disorder. Given lower reported rates of substance use and abuse among women in the 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's, it is not surprising that women have comprised much smaller percentages of those in treatment than men. Lack of access by women to substance abuse treatment, particularly women-centered treatment, is part of a long-standing pattern of neglect toward women with AOD-related problems. The increased association between substance abuse and welfare dependence has coincided with a decade-long escalation in prohibitionist sentiment in the United States. The author offers recommendations pertinent to research on substance abuse by women, the reform of drug policy to decriminalize drug use and expand treatment, and women-centered approaches to prevention and treatment. 93 references


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