Addiction Treatment for Women

According to Psychiatric Times, women have half the likelihood of men to abuse intoxicating and mind altering substances and end up struggling with physical and psychological dependence. This is why there are some specialized addiction treatment programs for women.

Understanding Addiction Treatment for Women

Most traditional substance abuse treatment and research programs were designed to help men overcome their addictions. This is because many more men check into treatment centers than women.

In 2011, for instance, TEDS - the Treatment Episode Data Set - reported that only about 33 percent of all admissions into substance treatment programs were female in 2011. This goes to show that more men receive these rehabilitation services than women.

Even so, women and men engage in substance abuse in different ways. For instance, men often cite marijuana and alcohol as their primary intoxicating and mind altering substances. Women, on the other hand, often report that they are addicted to prescription medications.

Although research has shown that men have a higher likelihood to engage in substance abuse at a young age, women can also suffer similarly high rates of drug use once they are introduced to intoxicating and mind altering substances.

However, the gender gap between women and men for substance abuse and addiction have been narrowing for several years now. According to Psychology Today, for instance, about 4.5 million American women struggle with substance use disorders. Of this number, 3.5 million report abusing prescription drugs while another 3 million engage in illicit drug use on a regular basis.

That said, gender differences sometimes have an impact on the needs for addiction treatment and recovery services. This is because women tend to use drugs and respond to them in different ways than men. However, they also tend to face unique barriers to recovery.

Gender Differences in Substance Abuse

Expected gender and cultural roles as well as biological differences between men and women play a major role in the reasons why they turn to drug use and end up struggling with addiction.

For instance, reports show that women tend to use drugs for reasons that are completely different from men. According to NIDA - the National Institute on Drug Abuse - for instance, close to 16 million women abused drugs in one form or the other in 2014. Among these women, the most commonly cited reasons for substance abuse included weight control, combating fatigue, self-medication for a mental health or medical concern, and pain management.

Hormonal influences and differences in the ways in which drugs have an impact on brain chemistry might also increase the likelihood that a women who starts abusing drugs ends up struggling with addiction.

This is because women tend to be more sensitive to the sensations of pain. As a result, many of them find that drugs are effective for self-medication. However, any misuse of these substances often gives rise to dependence and addiction.

Additionally, women have a high likelihood of struggling with various mental health issues like depression and anxiety. This increases their susceptibility to substance misuse as a coping mechanism. Women are also typically more vulnerable than men to stress. This is another reason why they might start abusing drugs.

For instance, NCADV - the National Coalition against Domestic Violence - reports that about 33 percent of women have suffered physical violence at one point or the other. This inevitable increases their risk of struggling with drug use and addiction as a way to cope with the trauma that this type of violence can cause.

In the same way, most of the women who enroll for addiction treatment and rehabilitation services often report that they have suffered from physical or sexual trauma - which sometimes causes them to struggle with PTSD - or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Additionally, the expectations of society that women should be mothers and wives tends to increase the stress levels of some women. These cultural expectations sometimes present additional issues that need to be addressed during addiction treatment for women.

Women, Substance Abuse, and Addiction

Even so, women tend to abuse drugs for shorter periods of time in comparison to men. However, this does not mean that they do not develop substance use disorders at similar or higher rates than men.

In particular, taking drugs can alter the chemical pathways of the brain. For women, most of these changes tend to occur relatively fast. This effectively means that they are more likely to develop physical dependence much faster than men. Often, this type of dependence ends up progressing to addiction.

NIDA also reports that women have a higher likelihood of struggling with drug cravings and high risks of relapse. This is because they metabolize intoxicating and mind altering substances at faster rates - which could increase their risk of addiction.

Specialized Addiction Treatment for Women

While trying to seek addiction treatment services, many women often encounter several potential and actual barriers to entry. Most of these barriers are unique to the female sex, and they include:

  • Childcare concerns
  • Cultural stigmas
  • Family responsibilities
  • Financial struggles
  • Lacking in financial independence
  • Presence of additional co-occurring mental health and medical disorders
  • Social stigma
  • Transportation issues

Some women are considered high functioning even while struggling with substance abuse and addiction. In some instances, their social drug use and alcohol drinking might be viewed as an activity or hobby and not as a serious problem. Others might be embarrassed about their substance abuse and try to hide it from other people around them.

Many women also view their addiction as a result of the mental health concerns that they are struggling with and not as a separate problem. However, this also means that they are more likely to enroll for treatment from mental health and primary care professionals rather than checking into specialized addiction treatment programs for women.

Even so, it is important to remember that specialized treatment methods for women might prove to be highly beneficial and useful in the long run. Checking into a gender-specific addiction treatment program, for instance, can help them focus on their emotional needs, ensure that they have transportation and childcare services, and offer them management services for co-occurring disorders.

Overall, these addiction treatment centers can be the missing link that many women need before they can overcome their substance use disorders. They can, for instance, teach them how to cope with cultural expectations, stigma, and stress even as they battle as their addictions. In the long run, they might also prove useful in reducing the risk of relapse.


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