Gender Gap in Prescription Pain Drug Abuse


A new study at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital discovers that gender may play a big role in abuse of prescription pain drugs.

Researchers suggest that misuse of prescription pain medication by women appears to be related to psychological distress while with men social and behavioral problems seem to be the issue.

"Since little has been published about gender differences and misuse of prescription pain medication, it is valuable to document whether risk factors for abuse are gender specific to some degree," says study researcher Robert N. Jamison, PhD, a clinical psychologist.

Researchers noted that women in the study tended to display signs of emotional issues and affective distress, compared with men however, men tended to show signs of worrisome behaviors, such as association with other people who abused drugs and alcohol and in criminal behavior.


Jamison writes in his study that the use of opioids for chronic pain is growing, and that between 3% and 16% of the population has a substance use disorder. In fact, some pain centers that hand out opioids are overwhelmed with patients who are known or suspected to be abusing pain medications.

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Women who have a history of sexual abuse was were prone to abuse these prescription drugs. "These results are in agreement with past research that highlighted the importance of sexual and physical abuse history in predicting opioid misuse," the researchers write. "These same studies also showed that women with a significant history of anxiety and depression tend to do less well in properly managing opioids prescribed for pain, possibly because of the tendency to self-medicate a mood disorder using opioids."

The confirmed that women are much more open and truthful about behaviors and seek psychological help and men do not.

"Given the prominence of sex differences in a variety of pain-related processes, we may eventually arrive at a method for tailoring risk assessment and risk-reducing interventions in part as a function of gender," the researchers say, adding that more research is called for by their study.