Policy report

Gender impact assessment - drugs and dependence

29 Sep 2008

Drug use among women appears to be on the rise both in Australia and around the world. The number of women in Victoria that misuse drugs is small with 10.35% of women using illicit drugs in the past 12 months but the health implications for these women and their families are serious and wide ranging. Women misuse both prescription and illicit drugs for various reasons. These include dealing with past trauma, relieving stress, and self medicating mental illness. Women and men’s drug use differs with men more likely to use drugs for recreational purposes and women’ more likely to use them to improve mood, reduce tension and cope with problems.

There are many health and social implications associated with women’s misuse of drugs. Exposure to significant illness and disease including hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which women are biologically more vulnerable to can dramatically reduce quality of life. Falls and other injuries sustained while under the influence of prescription drugs used for illicit purposes is concern for women, many of who are also abusing alcohol. Maintaining employment can be difficult for women using drugs further exacerbating the lack of financial security women experience compared to men. Women are more likely to be incarcerated for non-violent drug offences than men which can result in separation from dependent children.

In Australia, more young women than young men have used an illicit drug. The use of drugs at a young age exposes women to drug related harm at a challenging time in their lives. Drug use is widespread as almost two in every five Australians aged 14 years or older have used an illicit drug at some time in their lives. The most commonly-reported illicit drugs used in Australia in order of their usage are cannabis, ecstasy, pain killers/analgesics used for non-medical purposes and meth/amphetamine. Illicit drugs also include prescription or over-the-counter pharmaceuticals (such as tranquillisers/sleeping pills) used for illicit purposes. Of Australian women aged 14 years and over, 38.4% had used illicit drugs during their lifetime and 11% of had used illicit drugs in the past 12 months.

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