As experts continue to explore what works in substance abuse treatment, it’s becoming more and more clear that women and men differ in their needs. They also differ in their paths to developing addiction as well as what makes them vulnerable to triggers and relapses.
Substance Abuse Treatment Needs
Since the early 1960’s, women have been fighting for their equality with men in the workplace, at home, in religious traditions, and in the community. And even though women have established their equality in many areas of life, they have different needs and vulnerabilities when it comes to receiving substance abuse treatment.
For instance, women:
- Get addicted differently
- For different reasons
- Progress faster in the destructive addiction cycle
- Recover differently
- Relapse differently
- Tend to use less alcohol and illicit drugs and more prescription psychoactive drugs
- Tend to get introduced to drugs through significant relationships
- Accelerate to injecting drugs more quickly
The Substances Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) suggests that addiction treatment centers for women should consider a woman’s needs, including the severity of the addiction, and her financial situation. Studies show that once a woman enters an addiction treatment center, she is just as likely as a man to stay in treatment. However, there are factors that will keep her in treatment, such as the presence of childcare, a collaborative approach to treatment, and a supportive environment.
Studies also show that women who are employed and have recovery oriented support systems will have fewer relapses and will be more likely to maintain their sobriety. Once a woman is complete with her initial detox and stay at an addiction treatment center, she can transition to a drug treatment aftercare facility where she has the freedom to be able to attend work, school, or family events. Lastly, SAMHSA recognizes important factors that play a role in the sobriety of women are having the support of a significant other, having a family that cares, being older, and having at least a high school diploma.
SAMHSA has found the following core principles are essential for the treatment of women in addiction recovery:
- Recognizing the role and significance of personal relationships in women’s lives.
- Addressing the unique health concerns of women.
- Acknowledging the importance and role of socioeconomic issues of women.
- Promoting cultural awareness in the treatment of women.
- Including a developmental perspective.
- Adopting a trauma-focus in treatment
- Incorporating an integrated and multidisciplinary approach to treatment for women
- Maintaining a gender specific environment across all treatment settings.
- Supporting the development of gender competencies specific to the issues of women.
Obstacles Women Face in Recovery
However, even before getting treatment, women have unique obstacles that keep them from getting the help they need. Addiction is not a single dimension issue for women. It often includes deep psychological patterning, including the experience of shame. In fact, shame becomes a thread woven into the addiction where women feel embarrassed or shameful for having an addiction in the first place. And although they might not yet see it as an addiction, they might see it as a problem they can’t control. Additionally, the shame might continue to grow and keeps them stuck in addiction. This alone might hinder them from getting addiction help and seeking out an addiction treatment center to go to.
In addition to this, females, particularly when they are young might develop a dependency for different reasons. For instance, boys tend to use drugs and alcohol for recreational purposes and because they like feeling the effect of drugs, while girls want to belong with their group, and they don’t want to hurt other’s feelings by not using. Interestingly, two things that most addicted women share are lack of healthy relationships and experience of trauma.
However, if women can get into an addiction treatment center that caters to their unique needs, especially if that center provides drug addiction therapy that can address issues like shame, relationships, obstacles to independence, and establishing financial stability, then they are likely to succeed in treatment.