Women living with addiction experience it differently from men.
They start using drugs or alcohol for different reasons than men, and their progress to a full-blown addiction tends to happen more quickly. Once they become addicts, women have different needs in recovery.
Women’s Risk Factors for Substance Abuse
There are some risk factors that tend to be associated more strongly with drug or alcohol abuse among women. This include:
- Age: women who are in their 20s and early 30s
- Divorce or separation; unmarried and living with a partner or never married
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Spouse or partner who drinks or uses drugs
- History of taking on adult responsibilities during childhood (performing household chores, providing emotional support for parents, caring for younger siblings)
- Family history of drug or alcohol abuse
Women’s Patterns of Substance Abuse
There are also distinct differences in the way women experience substance abuse compared to men:
- Women are more likely to be introduced to drug or alcohol use by a family member, friend, or romantic partner. Married women are less likely to start abusing drugs or alcohol.
- When women start using drugs, they will accelerate to injecting faster than men. The level of high-risk behavior they exhibit around substance abuse is influenced by their closest relationships.
- Women are likely to vary their drug and alcohol use pattern in response to their responsibilities as caregivers within the family.
- More men use drugs and alcohol than women, but women are just as likely to become addicted after they start using chemicals.
Identification of Substance Abuse in Women
The first step in getting help for a substance abuse issue is identifying the problem. For a number of women, child protective services may uncover a concern about drug or alcohol use.
Women are also more likely to have friends, partners, and family members who also have substance abuse issues. When a woman has people in her life who are abusing drugs and alcohol, they are more likely to support her substance use.
Barriers to Substance Abuse Treatment for Women
When someone recognizes that they have a drug or alcohol issue and decides to go to treatment, they must still look for the best treatment model to fit their needs.
- Economic barriers are more likely to be a factor for women than men seeking help for substance abuse.
- Family responsibilities can make it more challenging for women to go to regular treatment sessions.
- Transportation to and from treatment may be an issue for women who would like to get help for drug or alcohol abuse.
- A number of women experience stigma around going for drug or alcohol treatment.
- Women may have concerns about losing custody of their children if they seek treatment for substance abuse.
Women in Substance Abuse Treatment: Co-occurring Disorders
It’s not uncommon for women seeking help for substance abuse to also need help for co-occurring disorders. This means they are living with a mental health concern (anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, etc.) as well as an addiction.
When a resident in a recovery facility has been assessed and diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder, it is treated simultaneously with the substance use disorder. The resident first undergoes detoxification (detox) to free her from the influence of chemicals. Once she is clean and sober, a full assessment is conducted to determine her needs and recovery goals.
Psychiatric services, including medications, can be provided to treat the mental health issue as necessary. The substance abuse is treated, as well, since the resident needs to get to the root of the reasons for her addiction and learn strategies for living a sober lifestyle.
Talking About Trauma in Rehab
One of the issues that women will often address in rehab is trauma. They may have undergone physical, emotional, or sexual violence in their past that contributed to their substance abuse. Some women feel distinctly uncomfortable bringing up this topic in group therapy if there are males present.
At Twin Lakes Recovery Center, we provide our inpatient treatment residents with a supportive atmosphere where they feel can comfortable. We provide individual and group therapy sessions, along with gender groups to assist our clients in achieving their rehab goals.
Substance Abuse. Healthy Women. Retrieved June, 2017.
Substance Abuse in Women. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved June, 2017.
Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved June, 2017.
Gender and Use of Substance Abuse Treatment Services. National institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved June, 2017.