Women & Substance Abuse - The Cost to Colorado - January 2002

Denver Women's Commission
Women & Substance Abuse - The Cost to Colorado - January 2002

Individuals and families are devastated by alcohol and drug abuse. But the state and its taxpayers also pay a price. Where we currently spend the dollars is not on treatment.

Abuse, Dependence and Treatment

●. Women metabolize alcohol differently, get drunk faster, become addicted more easily and develop cirrhosis of the liver more readily. Women die an average of 15 years sooner than men from alcohol abuse. In women, 20 grams (2 ounces of 80 proof alcohol) daily appears to cause the same degree of liver damage occurring in men consuming 60 grams of alcohol. (Gearhart, et al., 1991; Krahn et al., 1994; LaGrange, 1994)

Women often describe the onset of drug use as sudden and heavy rather than gradual. Women are more likely than men to be addicted to more than one mood-altering substance, and many addicted women report that they began using drugs after a specific traumatic event in their lives. ( HHS, Substance Abuse Treatment for Women Offenders, 2000) Among women problem drug users, 35% report major depressive episodes versus 9% of other women. (SAMHSA, Substance Use Among Women in the United States, 1997)

● An estimated 40,280 Colorado women were abusing or dependent on alcohol from 1995-1999, with only 5,437 receiving publicly funded treatment. Males are 3 or more times as likely as females to have problems with alcohol. Of those in treatment for alcohol abuse, only 17.2% are women.

Women represent 43% of clients in Methamphetamine Treatment; 40% of clients in Cocaine treatment; 34% of those in heroin treatment and 26% of those in Marijuana treatment;; and (Alcohol and Drug Use and Abuse in Colorado: Prevalence and Trends, Colorado Department of Human Services, 1998)

There are only six residential programs in Colorado with have treatment beds for women, only five of those have any beds for women to take some of their younger children. Of these, there are an estimated 40 publicly subsidized beds or less. Many women do not seek treatment for fear of losing custody of their children or because of the significant stigma of being a female substance abuser.

Treatment for substance abuse by women is complicated by the need for child care, transportation and financial assistance. Treatment for women should be gender specific and address women's issues, e.g. mental health, sexual abuse, repeated physical violence, parenting, relationships, spirituality and self-sufficiency. 90% of men leave a substance abusing woman; 90% of women stay with a substance abusing man (Doweiko, 1999; Hatcher, 1989)

Parents’ substance abuse is one of the primary reason 24,473 Colorado grandparents, mostly grandmothers, are raising grandchildren (Census 2000 Supplemental Survey). 126,100 U.S. children have a parent in jail (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dept of Justice, 1999) Prior to being incarcerated, 64% of women lived with their children.

Medical costs

Up to 50% of all general hospital admissions are alcohol or drug related. Colorado is one of only 3 states that does not fund substance abuse treatment through Medicaid.

●Almost 20% of Medicaid dollars nationally are spent on physical illness resulting from alcohol and drug abuse.


For Colorado women on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), substance abuse is one of the most often self- identified barriers to employment. (Evaluation of the Colorado Works Program, Berkeley Policy Associates, 2000)

• Only 27% of Colorado's TANF recipients who self-identified as substance abusers received treatment.

Criminal justice and prison costs

● 41.5% of female adult and 21.7% of female juvenile offenders are diagnosed alcohol/drug abusive or dependent. One-third of female (versus 19% of male) Colo. Department of Corrections inmates (418) have a drug offense as their most serious conviction. 59% of these women’s offenses (250) % are for possession and use versus distribution, sale or manufacturing.(Department of Corrections, 2001). Women entering prison treatment appear to have more severe histories of drug abuse than men -- using hard drugs more often prior to incarceration and earlier use of needles. The average costs of incarceration in Colorado are $28,000 per year

Girls and Substance Abuse

Nationally, girls are less likely than boys to use most illegal substances, although the gender gap grows smaller as girls grow older. In the 1997 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey, 26% of Colorado girls reported that someone offered, sold or gave them an illegal drug on school property within the previous 12 months. In 1997, 56% of Colorado boys and 52% of girls reported having consumed alcohol during at least one of the last 30 days.

•33% of girls claimed they had consumed 5 or more drinks on at least one day in the previous month.