Theses Doctoral

Gender-Related Differences in Heroin Use

Kail, Barbara Lynn

Although the incidence of heroin addiction among women may be rising, knowledge concerning the rates by which use is initiated and terminated remains sparse. In response to this gap, a secondary analysis has been conducted on a sample of Black methadone-maintained addicts. As the individuals included in this study are clearly self-selected, it is not possible to investigate the etiology of their addiction. Hirschi, Matza, Sutherland and Cloward provide the theoretical framework for a descriptive analysis of gender-related differentials.

Bivariate and multiple discriminant analysis show significant differences between male and female clients in ties to conventional society, associates cultivated and patterns of drug use. Women in this sample develop stronger ties to the family while men are more likely to participate in the labor force. Men have more extensive criminal histories and are involved in violent and property-related crimes at greater levels than women. However, women report more extensive exposure to heroin use within the family. As anticipated, women in this sample first tried heroin at an older age and have been addicted for a shorter period of time before attempting methadone maintenance.

A further series of regression and multiple discriminant analyses identifies several different patterns of experiences, centered around the clients' current living arrangements and labor force participation. These patterns may be suggestive of what can be expected while a client is maintained on methadone.

The first pattern identified appears to fit into the framework provided by Hirschi. Men and women not living with family at entry to treatment, in the "fast life", have fewer ties to family and the labor force prior to addiction. They are more involved in crime. Although not indicated in the data, this pattern most likely preceeds an earlier age of addiction. Their socialization is truncated. Further ties to conventional society are not established or cultivated and criminal activity remains extensive. These clients appear to use treatment as a respite from the rigors of "hustling" and purchasing drugs. Once this life is viable again, they leave.

A second set of patterns may be closer to Matza's conceptualization of drift, characterized by relatively conventional behavior along with the intermittent commission of deviant acts. Men living with their family attempt to fulfill the traditional role assigned to males, despite the difficulties faced by minority group members living in the inner city. These men have the strongest employment histories and are relatively uninvolved with the criminal justice system, both before and during addiction. They are most successful in treatment. Women who head their households apparently establish a pattern of behavior reminiscent of traditional gender-role expectations. They typically marry prior to addiction, drop out of the labor force and remain relatively removed from crime. These women appear to leave treatment only when another program offers a higher level of maintenance, perhaps due to their limited legal and illegal options.

Female clients living with their spouse at entry to treatment are not clearly distinguishable from those living with children, but evidence a few distinctive aspects worth exploring. With one exception, these women have not expanded their families to include children. Their employment history is more extensive, and their marriage more likely to be established after addiction. Their higher levels of heroin use while remaining in treatment may indicate ambivalence.

Several theoretical and programmatic implications can be drawn from the findings presented above. (1) The distribution by sex of the lifestyles described suggests that they "fast life" might be less accessible to women. As hypothesized by Cloward and Piven, the manner in which an addiction career is carried out may be molded by widely held expectations associated with gender. (2) While the findings indicate that female clients may have special needs, the similarities among males and females choosing a specific lifestyle could indicate specialized programs might not be the answer. Clearly, female clients in this sample have a greater need for assistance with children and may wish to train for different jobs compared with men. Yet, if program counselors are properly sensitive, these clients may be as well served within a heterosexual environment. The needs of clients in this sample to create and strengthen ties to family and the labor force go beyond sex. Given current fiscal constraints, it might be prudent to strengthen existing programs, especially in the area of vocational training, rather than establish separate facilities.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Lukoff, Irving F.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 26, 2015