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For decades, addicts were viewed as people who were bad, weak or lacked self-control. Today, a sizeable amount of research shows that addiction is a physical brain-altering process, according to a report from National Geographic.

What’s more, abundant research since the 1990s shows significant gender differences in addiction, according to information from Harvard Medical School. Data shows women are more biologically susceptible to addiction than men and psychological and societal differences also play a major role in addiction.

Unfortunately, even many health care professionals fail to recognize important distinctions between men and women who are victims of substance abuse.

Here are five ways women experience addiction differently from men:

Increased susceptibility

Women suffer from anxiety and depression at much greater rates than men. Studies also show women experience more physical pain and feel it more intensely than men. This combination of factors creates an increased likelihood women might choose to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

Women also experience increased rates of trauma that can fuel addiction. In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. David Sack explains women have more exposure to incest, sexual abuse and family violence. They can also be more vulnerable than men to physical attacks, which can lead to long-term problems like posttraumatic stress, which can propel them toward substance abuse.

Faster progression

Women "often progress more quickly from using an addictive substance to dependence (a phenomenon known as telescoping)," the Harvard Mental Health Letter states. "They also develop medical or social consequences of addiction faster than men, often find it harder to quit using addictive substances, and are more susceptible to relapse."

Physiologically women metabolize alcohol and drugs differently than men. They tend to feel effects faster and damage to physical organs (including the brain) can occur more rapidly.

Greater emotional and psychological impact

The physical impact on women "may pale in comparison to the emotional and spiritual damage done by addiction," explains Brenda LLiff in a separate article for Psychology Today. "When a woman is addicted it can impact the entire family system — since women are generally the central organizing factors in their network (caregiver to aging parent, parent to children, caregiver of older partner, etc)."

Facing stigmas

A high percentage of addicts choose not to seek help simply because of the stigma associated with addiction.Drugabuse.gov reports that in 2013, only about 10 percent of 22.7 million American with addictions sought treatment for a drug or alcohol problem.

The fear of associated stigma can be acute for women who fear losing or being separated from their children, spouses or other family members. They are also embarrassed to admit they struggle with addiction and hide their drug or alcohol use from family and friends.

Treatment barriers

Women face additional challenges when seeking addiction recovery treatments. In addition to the already mentioned stigma and family responsibilities, Sack reports women have less access to financial resources and even transportation.

Because many female addiction victims have also been victims of physical and sexual abuse, they can be reluctant to seek treatment in facilities that include men.

Finding hope

Most addicts need help to successfully overcome addiction. Fortunately, research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows women who complete addiction recovery treatment are less likely than men to relapse. In one study, six months after treatment 51 percent of the women abstained from drug use, compared to just 25 percent of male patients.

Recovery requires sincere relationships with unconditional love, truth and honesty. Addiction is not a matter of willpower or a lack of a moral compass, but a real illness that requires professional help. Women who are victims of addiction need the support of a dedicated, professional program that understands the unique needs of women.

If you or a loved one is battling addiction and needs help, contact Renaissance Ranch at 1-855-736-7262 to obtain a free consultation.