InWomen’s 2024 Conference examines current trends in substance use and gender

On Friday, May 31, 2024, the 16th International Women's and Children's Health and Gender (InWomen’s) Group Conference was held virtually. The InWomen’s conference is a multidisciplinary forum addressing all aspects of substance use among women, children, and LGBTQIA+ people with respect to gender, substance use treatment, and intersectional issues. 

The theme of this year’s conference was 2024 trends in women and gender substance use research. Conference participants represented 14 countries and shared insightful discussions about their impactful global research.  

What we know

RTI GGC Director and InWomen’s Chair Dr. Wendee Wechsberg opened with a discussion of the impact of the InWomen’s network to date, current challenges in the field, and why this work remains as important as ever. Reflecting on the past 15 years of funding, it is promising to see the number of gender-related substance use research continue to increase – for women, adolescent girls and women, and sexual and gender minorities. However, there is more work to be done.

Daily marijuana use has overtaken daily alcohol use for the first time, women’s alcohol use is on the rise, and there remains a stark gender disparity in accessing treatment for substance use – while 1 in 3 people using substances is a woman, only 1 in 5 of those receiving treatment for substance use is a woman. 

Lived experiences

The importance of listening to those with lived experiences was a key theme throughout the conference. Conference attendees heard from Sondra Trice-Jones on her personal story of recovery as well as a powerful poetry reading by poetess Teri Hairston. 

Key discussion points

The opening panel featured presentations from Drs. Kathleen Burlew, Caravella McCuistian, Irma Kirtadze, and Loretta Finnegan. Panelists discussed the importance of engaging community when adapting interventions for people of different cultures, the impact of war-related migration on women on women’s substance use in Eastern Europe, and pregnant people’s lack of medication options for the treatment of opioid use disorder. 

The interactive breakout sessions featured flash abstract presentations by researchers from across the globe on a variety of topics surrounding women, gender, and substance use.

These breakout rooms gave an insight into the broad range of research being done in this area and prompted enriching discussions surrounding gender, equity, substance use, and recovery. The discussion centered not only around findings but in how we conduct future research to ensure equity and sensitivity to all. A reflection on breakout sessions led by Dr. Richard Jenkins from NIDA prompted rich discussion around the importance of equity, stigma reduction, and how intersecting identity factors impact the experience of substance use and treatment interventions.

Uplifting women in the field

The day closed out with a conversation between Dr. Wendee Wechsberg, Dr. Jessy Devieux, and Dr. Linda Cottler, who discussed the importance of listening to, making space for, and uplifting other women in the early stages of their science careers through femtoring

The engagement throughout the day was clear and InWomen’s attendees noted a sense of collaboration, affirmation, and support throughout the day, motivating them to continue their research with the intention of reducing stigma, enhancing equity, and increasing access to treatment.

Conference evaluations noted the importance of networking in a collaborative and uplifting environment, and the impact InWomen’s conferences and its network have had on their careers. 

For updates and pictures, follow @InWomenConf on X or reach out to Isa van der Drift to get access to all conference materials.

“[I enjoyed] the new knowledge in relation to gender, and the meeting with women from all over the world [most]. The sense of sisterhood and women's power at the conference is encouraging and inspiring. This is a special feeling that I have not felt at any other conference.” – 2024 InWomen’s Conference Attendee.