Mars vs. Venus: How Does Gender Affect Prescription Drugs?

When the book Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus hit book shelves back in 1992, it was a huge hit. By highlighting the differences in men and women, the book’s theory is still solidly ingrained in our culture.

Though gender equality has come a long way in our society, there are some undeniable fundamental and physical differences between men and women. Biologically speaking, we are not all created equal.

Though you may not think about it very often, the biological differences between males and females translate directly to prescription drug use.

The Link Between Drugs and Gender

One of the most prevalent biological differences between men and women takes place courtesy of prescription medications. Thanks to those varied biological responses, we now know how and why these drugs affect genders differently.

The Quest for Sleep

A prime example of male vs. female biology is seen when using Ambien – a prescription sleep aid.

Studies released last year showed that women metabolize Ambien differently and reach maximum blood levels that are 45 percent higher than those of men. In other words, some women who took Ambien at night still had high enough levels of it in their system the next morning that it impaired their ability to drive a car. The FDA took immediate action by recommending that the suggested dose for women be cut in half.

“That is a textbook example of what is wrong,” said Larry Cahill, a neuroscientist at the University of California – Irvine, in a 60 Minutes report. “How did it happen that for 20 some years, women, millions of them, were essentially overdosing on Ambien?”

Effects of Other Drugs

Naturally, Ambien isn’t the only prescription medication that affects women differently than it affects men. Let’s take a look at three other common drugs that highlight these biological differences.

    • Opioid Painkillers: Biological differences are seen with administration of prescription pain medications. For example, opioid painkillers often contain acetaminophen (Tylenol). A large 2002 study found that women who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAID’s) for at least 22 days per month were 86 percent more likely to have hypertension. Men, on the other hand, did not show any increased risk.Additional gender differences include:

      Opioids are more effective in women.

      Some studies have indicated that, if women become addicted to opiate painkillers, they are more likely to relapse.

      Women are at an even higher risk of relapse during periods of hormonal fluctuation or menopause.


  • Antidepressants: Women absorb and respond to certain antidepressants faster and more efficiently than men. As a result, women have shown greater results with serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) like Zoloft.
  • Anti-anxiety Medications: Prescription medications like Valium and Xanax are used to treat anxiety disorders, but they do not perform equally among men and women. The pills themselves dissolve much slower in a woman’s stomach because they have less gastric acid than men. In the end, this causes the drug’s effects to be felt more quickly and powerfully.

Your Body, Your Medications

When taking prescription medications, it’s important to talk with your doctor about any potential dosage or side effect concerns. It’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to potentially dangerous prescription drugs.

Additional Reading: Can a Hormone Make You “Hungry” for Alcohol?