Men and women are different, and that fact is obvious in many different aspects of life. It is also the case when it comes to alcohol and substance abuse, addiction, and recovery. It’s important to understand the unique challenges and barriers that women might face—both biological and societal—when it comes to addiction so you can overcome them (if you are suffering from addiction) or help a loved one overcome them.
Substance Abuse and Women
Women are the fastest-growing segment for substance abuse in the U.S., and while their drugs of choice might be different from men (women tend to abuse alcohol and prescription drugs). They often start using drugs for different reasons, and their addictions often progress faster than those of men using similar substances. They also have different timelines for addiction recovery, and may have different triggers that can lead to relapse. Finally, there is significant shame and stigma attached to women who abuse drugs or alcohol, so they often hide it for much longer.
In a study of women who became addicted, the top factors cited that contributed to the addiction included stress or anxiety related to motherhood, romantic relationships, pressure from friends or family, and traumatic experiences.
Some of the biggest treatment barriers are not access-related; many women are able to access the same resources as men, so the barriers are societal in nature. Women tend to be less likely to seek treatment because:
- They are concerned about the impact on their families
- They are worried that they might be separated from, or lose, their families
- They feel they are able to control the addiction and it’s more of a habit than a problem that is disrupting their lives
- They abuse substances in response to anxiety or depression and seek treatment for those mental health issues instead
- They are afraid to admit that they cannot “do it all” and that they need help from family and friends
Perhaps one of the most powerful de-motivators that cause women to avoid seeking treatment for substance abuse is the impact it will have on their families. Many women are central caregivers in their family, and provide care and support for a spouse, children, aging parents, and perhaps also neighbors, friends, and church acquaintances. They are afraid that if they leave to seek treatment, the entire network will fall apart without their support.
Fortunately with the right support, women can thrive in recovery. Many women naturally make connections, so the support of the staff and others in recovery can improve the chances for success.
These differences in the patterns of abuse, the reasons for abuse, and the addiction recovery process mean that women have different needs than their male counterparts. Finding a recovery program specifically geared toward women can help them achieve better results and have longer-lasting recovery without relapse.