Is opioid addiction different for men and women?

There has been lots of study about addiction differences in men and women for alcohol and nicotine, but there has been little research in the areas of opioid addiction.   What research there has been, however, indicates that there are important differences.  One interesting finding is that there is a shorter time between the first use of an opioid and dependence than there is for men, a phenomenon called "telescoping".

The Office on Women's Health published a white paper yesterday (January 31, 2017) that addresses many of the important issues that face women and addiction to opioids.  While men are more likely to use opioids recreationally, women:

"In addition to being at increased risk for chronic pain, women are also more likely to be prescribed prescription opioids, be given higher doses of opioid pain medication, and use them for a longer duration of time than men. Research suggests women may also be more likely to use prescription opioids to self-medicate for other problems including anxiety or stress. Childhood abuse has also been linked to chronic pain later in life; individuals who have reported a history of abuse early on in life also are more likely to experience chronic pain."

The details associated with pregnancy and opioid use and addiction treatment will be addressed in a future blog post.   There is some preliminary evidence presented by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that buprenorphine based medications are better at minimizing newborn babies' withdrawal:

“Our findings suggest that buprenorphine treatment during pregnancy has some advantages for infants compared with methadone and is equally safe,” says Dr. Hendrée Jones, who led the multi-center study while at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and is now at RTI International.

There is more and more discussion about personalized medicine, about genetic testing to fine tune treatment.  It seems to us that before we get to that stage, maybe we should know more about how opioids affect the most fundamental differences in people.