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This article is part of the supplement: Women's Health Surveillance Report

Open Access Highly Accessed Report

Women and Substance Abuse Problems

Renée A Cormier1*, Colleen Anne Dell2 and Nancy Poole3

Author Affiliations

1 British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women's Health, E311-4500 Oak Street, Vancouver, Canada

2 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 75 Albert Street, Ottawa, Canada

3 British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women's Health, E311-4500 Oak Street, Vancouver, Canada

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BMC Women's Health 2004, 4(Suppl 1):S8  doi:10.1186/1472-6874-4-S1-S8

Published: 25 August 2004


Health Issues

Differences exist in the prevalence and physical health impacts of problem substance use among men and women. These differences are also found in the mental health and trauma events related to substance use, barriers to treatment and harm-reduction services and the impact of substance use on pregnancy and parenting. Data from the 2000–2001 Canadian Community Health Survey and Canada's Alcohol and Other Drugs Survey (1994) were used to explore this issue further.

Key Findings

While women use alcohol and illicit drugs at lower rates than men, the health impact of their use is significant, and in some cases greater than for men. Women are more likely to use prescribed psychoactive drugs (e.g. pain relievers, sleeping pills, tranquillizers) and most of these drugs have addictive potential and long-term negative consequences on health. Research collected from treatment centres in Canada show high rates of victimization experienced by women, which have implications for both their substance use treatment and improvement in mental health.

Data Gaps and Recommendations

Significant gaps exist in our knowledge on the level, type, and impact of substance use and the adequacy of programming for Canadian women. Information that might be used to guide prevention initiatives, such as the amount of alcohol that might safely be used in pregnancy and the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome, related birth defects and developmental disabilities are unknown. Improved surveillance, sensitive and comprehensive screening for substance use problems, accessible treatment and harm reduction programming, and coordination with the mental health and violence fields are recommended.