Characterizing Gender Differences in Treatment Seekers
Available evidence suggests women may be more vulnerable to the effects of chronic alcohol consumption than men. The few investigations of gender differences in treatment-seeking populations have often involved study samples restricted by selection criteria (e.g., age, education). The current study examined gender differences in a heterogeneous sample of individuals seeking treatment for a substance use disorder. We examined alcohol drinking levels, age at drinking milestones (e.g., first drink, first intoxication), and progression from milestones to alcohol problems or treatment. Additionally, family history, spousal alcoholism, and nicotine use were analyzed.
Participants included men (n = 274) and women (n = 257) in substance abuse treatment facilities. Participants completed inventories quantifying affect, intellectual ability, and drinking consequences. A family tree for substance use and personal histories for alcohol and nicotine use, including chronicity, frequency, and regularity, were collected.
Telescoping was not observed when progression from drinking milestones to alcoholism or alcohol problems was compared between men and women. In contrast, when considered as progression to treatment, marked telescoping effects were detected, with women entering treatment more rapidly by approximately 4 years. Familial differences included a greater proportion of women reporting alcoholic parents (73% women; 61% men) and alcoholic spouses (58% women; 38% men). Smoking behaviors were similar between genders; however, men reporting higher levels of alcohol consumption reported greater intensity of chronic smoking. Smoking and drinking behaviors were correlated among men, but not women. Rates of pretreatment drug problems were equivalent between genders.
When contrasted with the available literature, our data were only partially supportive of gender-contingent telescoping. While women did not experience alcohol problems or alcoholism earlier than men, they progressed to treatment more quickly. These results highlight the importance of carefully considering the sample and specific outcome variables when interpreting gender differences.