Women, and especially adolescent girls, are closing the substance abuse gender gap by drinking and using drugs nearly as much as men, a private report said Wednesday.
But the study said there is little understanding about women's motivations and treatment needs."We've been doing research on substance abuse as though everybody was a man," said Joseph Califano, president of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
"But it's clear that women need different treatment. We need a substance abuse treatment agenda for the American woman," said Califano, who served as President Carter's health chief.
The report issued by the center included more than 1,700 articles, surveys, government reports and books about substance abuse. It was to be released today at a luncheon attended by former first lady Betty Ford.
"Until we expand treatment opportunities for women and tailor programs to their specific needs, we will make little progress in helping addicted women recover from alcohol and drug dependency," Ford said in a statement.
Interviewed Wednesday on NBC, Ford said there has been some progress in treating women. "We realize women have different issues," she said.
Ford's daughter, Susan, added that teenagers particularly are at risk. "It absolutely scares me to death that the kids feel invincible. That's not the attitude I had when I was a teenager," she said.
"Women are now every bit as much at risk as men," said Barry McCaffrey, President Clinton's top adviser on drug-control policy. "We must play catch-up in order to provide needed education, treatment and prevention services."
Califano called for basic research on women's substance abuse by the National Institutes of Health and other leading centers for alcoholism and drug abuse.
According to the report, the percentage of drug addicts who are women doubled between 1960 and the late 1970s. Today, about 40 percent of crack addicts are women, it said.
The percentage of women who abuse prescription drugs, 3.7 percent, is about the same as men who do, 3.9 percent, the report said.
And girls now are 15 times more likely than their mothers to begin using illegal drugs by age 15, the report said.
The report said the conclusions were based on analysis of previous research, not any current surveys by the Columbia center.
The differences between men and women with substance abuse problems should have been noticed earlier considering the wide disparity described in the center's study, Califano said.
For example, 69 percent of women in alcoholism treatment were sexually abused as children, compared with 12 percent of men in treatment, the report said.
Depression is a common thread throughout women's substance abuse, including smokers, according to the study.
Female alcoholics are more likely to have mental health disorders, such as depression, in addition to their addiction. In contrast, men's depression tends to follow alcoholism, the report said.