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Gender Differences in Teen Addiction

Teens sitting in someones bedroom smoking and drinking  

Teen drug use is not uncommon in both genders and can be quite a normal part of experimentation and self-realization. However, what many teens do not realize is that there are stark differences regarding gender and drug abuse. When it comes to drug use in boys and girls, differences in body composition have a large impact on how drugs are metabolized or how a teen reacts to the drug. Having an accurate understanding of gender differences in teen addiction can help both teens, parents and their loved ones through the treatment and recovery process.

Differences in Teen Substance Abuse

Gender differences in drug abuse can stem from physiological, genetic and environmental differences between biological males and females. It is important to note that teen substance abuse problems can develop in anyone regardless of biological sex, gender or upbringing. It is imperative that teenagers have some basic information about addiction based on their biological sex. This information may help teens avoid substances or situations that can compromise their mental and physical health as well as their future. Some interesting facts on drug use between males and females include:

  • More males than females use marijuana.
  • Females are affected by marijuana, stimulants and other drugs differently than males.
  • Females and males exhibit different behaviors when it comes to nicotine use.

Teenage Boys

One of the most common drugs used by teens is alcohol. Teenage binge drinking is also quite popular among high school students despite how dangerous it can be. For teenage boys, binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks in the span of a few hours.

Many studies in the laboratory have confirmed sex differences between males and females. Interesting sex differences in different addiction stages in boys include that:

  • Boys are more likely to take drugs to fit in with their peer group than girls
  • When beginning to use drugs, boys do so more slowly than girls
  • When continuing to use drugs, boys require a lower amount of a drug more than girls
  • When withdrawing from a drug, boys feel more severe withdrawal effects than girls
  • Before relapsing, boys tend to have longer periods of abstinence than girls

Some of these observations have been confirmed in rodent models of addiction and likely can be attributed to hormonal fluctuations and differences in neurotransmitter signaling in the brain between males and females.

Teenage Girls

Drink for drink, girls face greater health risks from alcohol. The alcohol absorbed in a girl’s system leads to a higher blood alcohol content (BAC) by percentage, even if they drink the same amount as a boy. Though boys are more likely to binge drink, girls that drink four or more drinks in a short time put themselves at greater physical risks than boys who binge drink. In essence, girls may feel the effects of alcohol and other drugs more quickly than boys. There have also been studies that link alcohol consumption in females to breast cancer and nerve damage.

There are many other popular drugs among teens besides alcohol. Teens tend to more frequently use drugs that are easily accessible to them, such as alcohol in their parents’ liquor cabinets, prescription pain medications and marijuana. Girls addicted to drugs exhibit slightly different behavioral patterns than their male counterparts; namely:

  • When trying drugs for the first time, girls are more likely to experience pleasurable feelings and are more likely to self-medicate than boys
  • Girls often start using drugs more quickly than boys and often increase the frequency or amount of drugs they use
  • Typically, girls need higher drug doses than males during continuing drug use
  • Girls experience more severe side effects of drugs than males
  • When withdrawing from a drug, girls may feel more physical and mental stress than boys
  • Considering relapse, girls are more likely to relapse than boys and have shorter periods of abstinence

Differences in Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues

Besides differences in substance abuse between girls and boys, mental health in teenage males is quite different from females. For example, teenage girl mental health issues in relation to substance abuse include:

  • Females have a higher rate of co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Females have lower suicide rates due to substance abuse than their male counterparts
  • Female substance abuse and mental health are less stigmatized than for males
  • Because of the negative societal stigma, males are less likely to accept mental health or substance abuse treatment than females
  • Females diagnosed with personality disorders may struggle with addiction more frequently

Does your teen struggle with addiction? Contact Next Generation Village today to discuss treatment options for teen addiction to drugs or alcohol. A representative will be happy to discuss recovery programs offered and how to best help your teen. Next Generation Village also offers comprehensive treatment for any co-occurring mental health conditions with drug addiction.


Becker, J.; McClellan, M.; Glover Reed, B. “SEX DIFFERENCES, GENDER AND ADDICTION.” J Neurosci Res, January 2, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2019.

National Cancer Institute. “Alcohol and Cancer Risk.” September 13, 2018. Accessed September 20, 2019.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Underage Drinking.” February 2017. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Sadowski, A.; Houck, R. “Alcoholic Neuropathy.” NCBI Bookshelf, January 24, 2019. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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