Research has shown a relationship between substance use and offending, but the nature of this relationship remains unclear, especially for women. To explore this, 867 female police detainees in New South Wales were interviewed to examine the correlates of substance use and offending; the relationships between social background, substance use and offending; and the temporal order of substance use and offending. Offences relating to substance use, such as possession, were excluded. Canonical correlations revealed a significant association between substance use and offending. Women who were dependent on drugs had higher levels of offending than non-dependent women; and younger, less educated women were reported more heroin and cannabis dependency. Results of t-tests showed that substance use significantly preceded criminal offending. These results are markedly different from patterns observed in most male offenders. We review the implications of these findings for crime prevention, rehabilitation and substance abuse treatment.