Sex differences amongst dependent heroin users: Histories, clinical characteristics and predictors of other substance dependence

Fiona L. Shand, Louisa Degenhardt, Tim Slade, Elliot C. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Introduction and aims: To examine differences in the characteristics and histories of male and female dependent heroin users, and in the clinical characteristics associated with multiple substance dependence diagnoses. Design and methods: 1513 heroin dependent participants underwent an interview covering substance use and dependence, psychiatric history, child maltreatment, family background, adult violence and criminal history. Family background, demographic and clinical characteristics were analysed by sex. Ordinal regression was used to test for a relationship between number of substance dependence diagnoses and other clinical variables. Results: Women were more likely to experience most forms of child maltreatment, to first use heroin with a boyfriend or partner, to experience ongoing adult violence at the hands of a partner, and to have a poorer psychiatric history than men. Males had more prevalent lifetime substance dependence diagnoses and criminal histories and were more likely to meet the criteria for ASPD. Predictors of multiple substance dependence diagnoses for both sexes were mental health variables, antisocial behaviour, childhood sexual abuse, victim of adult violence, younger age at first cannabis use and overdose. As the number of dependence diagnoses increased, clinical and behavioural problems increased. Childhood emotional neglect was related to increasing dependence diagnoses for females but not males, whereas PTSD was a significant predictor for males but not females. Discussion and conclusions: Mental health problems, other substance dependence, childhood and adult trauma were common in this sample, with sex differences indicating different treatment needs and possible different pathways to heroin dependence for men and women.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-36
Number of pages10
JournalAddictive Behaviors
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Heroin dependence
  • Opioid
  • Opioid dependence
  • Polydrug dependence
  • Polydrug use
  • Substance use disorders


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