New National Study on Substance Use Among Women in the United States Released
The first major analysis of alcohol, cigarette, and illicit drug use in a nationally representative sample of women was released today by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Among other findings, the survey shows dramatic increases in initial use of alcohol and drugs by girls aged 10-14 over the last three decades.
Using data from SAMHSA's National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, this new report shows trends in the prevalence and patterns of substance use and abuse among women and describes the differences in substance use and abuse between males and females.
"This landmark study tells us conclusively that substance use is an increasingly significant problem for women in this country, and it's a problem that is starting earlier and earlier in girls' lives," said SAMHSA Administrator Nelba Chavez, Ph.D. "We need to be providing girls with greater support and a more empowered view of their future during their vulnerable early teen years."
The report shows in the early 1960's, among girls, about 7 percent of the new users of alcohol were between the ages of 10-14. By the early 1990's, that percent had increased to 31 percent of new users of alcohol. Likewise, among girls reporting their first use of marijuana in the early 60's only 5 percent were 10-14 year olds; in the early 90's it has risen to 24 percent.
Dr. Chavez continued,"These trends are exactly the reason why we have initiated the "Girl Power! Campaign at the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the leadership of Secretary Donna Shalala we are working to help encourage and empower 9 to 14 year old girls to make the most of their lives."
Today's report was released by Dr. Chavez at SAMHSA's National Conference on Women in Phoenix, Arizona.
"While substance abuse is more often reported by men and research to date has focused mainly on male substances users and abusers, this survey shows that we must focus at least equal attention on substance abuse by women," said Dr. Chavez.
Key Report Findings
Among adults significantly fewer females than males reported use of alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine, and any illicit drug. However, the gender difference in adults has narrowed in recent years.
Among 12 to 17-year olds, rates of female and male alcohol, cigarette, and illicit drug use are similar.
During the period between 1961-65 and 1986-90, females generally initiated alcohol use at later ages than males. But during 1991-1995, the gender difference in age-specific rates of alcohol initiation became negligible.
Since the early 1970s rates of marijuana initiation have consistently declined among females and males in every age group except the 10- to 14-year-olds.
Among 12-17 year olds, a significantly higher percentage of females than males reported the non-medical use of psychotherapeutics (e.g. painkillers, tranquilizers, sedatives and stimulants) in the past year.
An estimated 62,000 or 2.3 percent of all pregnant under age 44 reported using any illicit drug in the past month.
About a fifth (21.2%) of pregnant women under age 44 had used alcohol in the past month. Of this pregnant, alcohol-using group, nearly a third reported having three or more drinks on the days they drank.
About a fifth (21.5%) of pregnant women under age 44 said they had smoked cigarettes in the past month. And more than a quarter of these pregnant smokers reported heavy smoking in the past month -- i.e., one or more packs of cigarettes each day.
Women who were pregnant reported a significantly lower prevalence of past month use of alcohol, marijuana, and any illicit drugs than non-pregnant women with or without children. This suggests that women may have reduced or stopped use of substances during pregnancy, but increased use after they gave birth.
Among adult women, the highest prevalence of any illicit drug use in the past year was found among those age 18-34, those who were unemployed, those who had never married, those who initiated substance use at an early age (at age 15 or younger), and those with one or more of four mental syndromes included in the survey.
About 30 percent of females compared to 35 percent of males who needed drug treatment received it in the past year.
Among adult women who needed but did not receive treatment, 40 percent were age 18-25, 41 percent were alcohol dependent, 28 percent had some college, 55 percent worked full or part time, and 32 percent lived with two or more children under age 18 and 71 percent had initiated alcohol or drug use before the age of 15.
Dr. Chavez said, "We are committed to improving the quality and availability of substance abuse prevention, addiction treatment and mental health services for women in the United States. Women make up more that half of America's population, and it is time that we take a comprehensive look at women across the life cycle in terms of the multiple roles they play in society as well as their health, social and economic needs."
For this reason, in addition to addictive and mental disorders, SAMHSA's National Conference on Women will focus on issues of primary health care, violence, HIV/AIDS and other social and economic issues that impact the quality of the lives of women, their families, and their communities.
The conference is being co-sponsored by the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Indian Health Service, the Public Health Service's Office on Women's Health, the Veterans Administration, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
SAMHSA is the federal government's lead agency for improving the quality and availability of substance abuse prevention, addiction treatment and mental health services in the U.S., and is a public health agency in the Department of Health and Human Services. Copies of the report are available via the Internet at www.samhsa.gov or by calling the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, a service of SAMHSA, at 1-800-729-6686.