Drug taking used to be seen as a predominantly male activity, with women involved only on the sidelines. It is generally seen as a young, male, working class pursuit and if women were addicts they were seen as unnatural and deviant. "It would be foolish to imagine that women do not take drugs – isolated young housewives are amongst the heaviest drug users and girls in their late teens are one of the largest groups amongst attempted suicides by drug overdose… I am suggesting for a complex of reasons the imaginary solutions which drugs may offer boys do not have the same attraction for girls.
" However if it is unnatural for women to take drugs does this mean that it is natural and therefore acceptable for males to be drug users? This idea of the gender split is now changing; in many areas of drug culture (particularly those associated with the dance culture) women are seen on the same level as men and participate as fully as their male counterparts. This idea of it being acceptable for men to be drug users but not for women is seen in The United States also.
When the first drug treatment centres were opened in the 1960's they were exclusively for men, women simply did not figure into the equation. "Female addicts have been considered sicker, more resistant to treatment, and more difficult to deal with than their male counterparts – or any class or ethnic group. " Over fourteen years after the first drug rehabilitation centre for men was opened, a centre for women was opened, and two years after that women were given priority in drug treatment because of the extent of the problem.
This problem was highlighted and brought into the public forum because of the plight of "crack babies" – babies born addicted to cocaine because their mother used the drug during pregnancy. In Philadelphia in 1989 one in five babies was born with cocaine in their system. The most common drug addictions for those of either gender are addictions to the legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco. It is with these drugs that the gender differences are quite well documented.
Male smokers used to far outweigh female smokers but since the end of the Second World War the percentage difference between the two has continued to decrease year on year so that it is now virtually equal. After World War II cigarette advertisers started to target women in their campaigns, promoting cigarettes as feminine and sexy and also highlighting the fact that they help you keep slim by suppressing the appetite. This has been described as the "tyranny of slenderness" .
This increase in the number of women smoking over the past fifty years has meant that while male cases of lung cancer are declining, female cases are steadily increasing. So much so that if it continues at this rate then lung cancer will take over from breast cancer in 2010 as the biggest cancer related killer of women. This has already happened in the United States where 22% of all adult women smoke. One of the most worrying groups that are increasing their cigarette consumption is teenage girls.
They often start to smoke to avoid weight gain. They also seek to identify themselves as independent and glamorous, which reflect images projected by tobacco advertisements. In America in 1999 34. 9 per cent of high school girls were current smokers. An increased worry of this trend for young girls to smoke is the fact that women who take the contraceptive pill and also smoke are ten times more likely to have either a coronary attack, stroke or blood clot in the leg veins.
As well as these problems for the actual woman, when it comes to pregnancy the problems are even more severe. Smoking in both men compromises fertility and women, in men it limits the ability to mount an erection and means that men are able to produce only a few "sluggish" sperm. Smoking during pregnancy (both direct and passive) can cause serious health problems for the unborn child; it passes on nicotine to the foetus and prevents as much as twenty-five percent of oxygen from reaching the placenta.
Smoking during pregnancy accounts for up to fourteen per cent of premature deliveries and ten per cent of all infant deaths. Maternal smoking has also been linked to asthma among infants and young children. Mothers who smoke and breast-feed their babies pass nicotine to their children through breast milk. Additionally, infants are more likely to develop colds, bronchitis, and other respiratory diseases if second-hand smoke is present in the home.