Multiple barriers prevent women from accessing addiction services. It’s high time we removed them!


In 2020, an estimated 284 million people worldwide aged 15-64 years had used a drug in the past 12 months, i.e. a 26% increase compared to 2010.

Drug use is unevenly distributed in the population: men are more likely to use drugs than women. According to UN estimates, one in three people who use drugs is a woman.

For some substances however, the prevalence of women’s use is similar to men’s, with women sometimes outnumbering men. According to UN data, women account for more than 40% of those who use amphetamine-type stimulants.

Women’s specific vulnerabilities

Women who use drugs face multiple vulnerabilities. While the prevalence of drug use is higher in men, women are more likely than men to have a faster increase in levels of drug use and a faster progression to dependence.

Women who inject drugs are more vulnerable than men to HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne infections, and the risk of excess mortality in women who use drugs is higher than in men.

Gender-based violence is an initiating or aggravating factor of drug dependence. A significant proportion of women undergoing treatment for substance use are survivors of multiple forms of violence, including sexual violence (in childhood or adulthood), and violence from intimate partners.

Women who use drugs are two to five times more likely to experience gender-based violence than women who do not use drugs.

Globally, it is estimated that one in five people with addiction-related disorders receive treatment, and among the people receiving treatment, only one in five is a woman!

Gender has an impact on substance use initiation, progression to drug dependence, harms related to alcohol and drug use, and people’s access and adherence to treatment.

On average, women enter treatment at a later stage than men, because of family burdens, stigma and invisibility of use, resulting in chronic use and more severe drug dependence.

There are structural, social, cultural and gender barriers to the access and adherence of women in addiction services.

Barriers to addiction services

Women and people from the LGBT+ community face multiple barriers when trying to access addiction services. The challenges they regularly encounter include:

  • Stigma and societal expectations – women who use drugs often face stigma and social pressure. The fear of experiencing social disapproval can prevent them from seeking treatment. In addition, society tends to place higher expectations on women in terms of caregiving and maintaining family roles, which makes it harder for them to prioritize their own wellbeing
  • Lack of gender-specific programmes – addiction treatment programmes have historically been designed with a focus on men, often neglecting the unique needs and experiences of women. Gender-specific programmes that address the specific physical, psychological, and social factors affecting women are crucial but limited in availability.
  • Childcare responsibilities – women, particularly those with children, may face challenges in accessing treatment due to childcare responsibilities. Finding reliable and affordable childcare options while attending treatment sessions can be a significant obstacle.
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders – women with addictive disorders may also experience mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, or trauma-related issues. These underlying conditions can make it more challenging to access appropriate services that address both addiction and mental health needs.

Our campaign

Campaign’s slogan: “A gateway within all women’s reach”

Multiple barriers prevent women from accessing addiction services. It’s high time we removed them!

Gender significantly influences access to addiction services. Women have more difficulty accessing these services due to structural, social, cultural and gender barriers. It is essential to address these challenges from a gender perspective and work towards inclusive and accessible services for all.

Why passing on this message now?

In terms of policy, we have realized the importance of the gender perspective. However, this has not translated into greater implementation on the ground.

Political decisions with an impact on the ground are urgently needed, as well as greater awareness of the problem, so that we can effectively eliminate the barriers to access and adherence to addiction services.

It is equally important to raise awareness of the gender concept’s implications, which also concern the members of the LGBT+ community who face the same obstacles as women, as well as additional obstacles due to specific vulnerabilities.

Nobody should be left behind!

Call to action

Here are some of the measures that could be promoted at a policy and service level to reinforce gender-sensitiveness:

  • Assume a political commitment to design and implement gender-sensitive policies that take into account gender-related specific needs, including that of gender-disaggregated data.
  • Actively work to eliminate stigma towards people who use drugs, while putting a particular emphasis on the double or triple stigma that women who use drugs have to face.
  • Advocate to mainstream gender in all drug-related policies, initiatives, programmes and services. This means to include gender as a crosscutting principle of all actions designed and developed in this field.
  • Pay a greater attention to the link between gender violence and drug dependence and develop specific interventions and techniques.
  • Promote the provision of initiatives that encourage women with dependent children to access addiction services.
  • Invest in the training of professionals to address the widespread prejudices against women who use drugs.
  • Understand gender in a broader way to include the needs, and specific needs, of LGBT+ people as well.
  • Support the implementation of women-only services in order for them to have safe spaces where they feel confident to discuss their specific problems.
  • Develop approaches and services sensitive to the LGBT+ community that respond to their specific needs.
  • Develop, within all programmes and services (regardless of who they are aimed at) awareness activities and workshops designed to help beneficiaries understand the importance of gender-related issues.

Our targets

  • Decision-makers, to encourage them to implement measures to mainstream the gender perspective in drug-related policies and services
  • Health professionals, particularly addiction professionals who should truly understand the need to integrate a gender perspective at the level of primary care, referral and in specialized services.
  • The general public to bring the stigmatization of women who use drugs to an end.
  • Women who use drugs so that they can identify the problems they face and maintain high levels of self-esteem. We’ve got to encourage them to access addiction services.


This campaign is supported by CAMURUS, a Swedish science-led biopharmaceutical company committed to improving the lives of patients with severe and chronic diseases – view website: https://www.camurus.com/ 

This campaign has been developed by Dianova and is supported by Camurus through a sponsorship agreement. For compliance reasons Camurus has reviewed the campaign material(s) before release, but Camurus did not influence or control the content otherwise.

Read document on “Women and Opioid Dependence Treatment” by Camurus

Campaign’s publications


  • Policy statement (pdf): EN ES FR
  • Press release (pdf): EN ES FR

Campaign’s materials


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