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Women at Higher Risk for Addictive Behaviors than Men


Girls are at greater risk of addiction to tobacco, alcohol and drugs than boys their own age, even though they engage less often in these behaviors. Substance abuse among women is the subject of a new book called "Woman Under The Influence," written by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

Center chairman Joseph Califano, Jr. says women are affected more than men in part because girls produce less of an enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the body. "They retain the alcohol. Men pass it out. One drink has the same impact on a girl on the average that two drinks has on a boy," he says and adds, "One cigarette has the same impact on a woman carcinogenically as two cigarettes have on a man."

Califano says girls are (more) likely to be depressed than boys. "Puberty is a much more difficult experience for teenage girls than it is for a boy," he says. "Weight gain is a major factor in smoking, both in terms of starting to smoke and quitting." Califano says girls suffer much more severe consequences and get hooked much more rapidly than men and adds that only eight percent of the women who need treatment actually get it. "They are much more ashamed and embarrassed," he says. "They are afraid to come out and there is much less treatment available for women."

Califano also blames doctors who fail to recognize women's problems and prescribe medications that lead to a dependence on prescription drugs. He says the one-size fits all approach does not work and that new treatments must be tailored to women.

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