One significant pattern that keeps women from getting the drug treatment they need is their tendency to keep their addiction hidden. There is frequently shame and guilt that accompanies their patterns with drugs and alcohol. In fact, shame and guilt is and has been one of the biggest obstacles to drug treatment for women for too long. Recognizing this fact, H. Westley Clark, the Director of The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, said, “When we look at our data, we find that 6.9 million women are needing but not receiving treatment.” And what’s worse, 94% of those women felt that they did not even need treatment. In order to understand the presence of shame and guilt for women and how it gets in the way of drug treatment, experts began investigating the causes of women’s barriers to drug treatment.
How Drug Treatment and Menstrual Cycles are Connected
One study explored the influence of hormones on women’s bodies, brain chemistry, and mood. What they’ve found is that when a woman’s menstrual cycle begins, she might be more prone to depression. The release of estrogen and other ovarian hormones interacts with neurotransmitters and can lead to depression in women. Estrogen affects a women’s sense of well-being, memory, and the release of endorphins. The prevalence of depression in women is one in four, compared to one in ten for men.
When a woman’s hormones change, it can trigger old memories, strong emotions such as anger, and reminders of relational business that was left unfinished. Add to this the physical pain that sometimes comes with a woman’s pre-menstrual cycle. All of this leaves a woman vulnerable to reaching for alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. What’s significant about this is that the premenstrual cycle could be so severe for some women that the use of drugs and alcohol is their only way to manage the symptoms. As one woman put it, “My greatest fear is that there is no PMS and this is my personality!”
Specific Female-Focused Tools for Drug Treatment and Recovery
- A premenstrual daily symptoms chart
- Documenting triggers for relapse
- Documenting cravings for drugs and alcohol
- Charting patterns of behavior and emotions.
- Documenting the menstruation cycle
- Psycho-education on the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual changes that occur with monthly cycles
- Relapse prevention planning through nutrition counseling, exercise, meditation, therapy, women’s support groups, and connecting to the 12-step model
Experts suggest that women who recognize that their menstrual cycle has contributed their addiction recommend that they learn about their cycles, talk about their cycles with other women at Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings, exercise, keep track of their monthly cycle, and learn about proper nutrition.
How Hormones Can Affect Women’s Recovery
The influence of hormones and the menstruation cycle on addiction and recovery is not a topic well discussed. In fact, it is yet another topic that women keep hidden from most everyone in their lives, except for perhaps close friends. And some women might not even consider this as a possible contributor to an addiction, further dismissing this part of their healthy as it is related to addiction and drug treatment. Certainly, as mentioned above, many women do not even recognize that they have an addiction that warrants treatment.
The fact that this topic is not well known in the drug counseling field reflects the shame and silence that continues to exist for women with addiction. It’s true that addiction has long been a “man’s” disease. Yet, today we are learning that it’s not just men, but women too, who not only need help with getting sober, but they need help with getting into treatment in the first place.
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