Women are the fastest growing segment of the population who abuse substances, according to several research studies that have been done recently. Although more women than ever are suffering from substance abuse disorders, there still is a small number of women who actually are receiving treatment for their addiction.

Substance abuse in women is often harder to detect than in men, and can easily be overlooked by friends, family members and health care providers.  For women, a fair amount of drinking is often done at home, during hours of the day when significant others and/or children are not at home. They are also less likely to have consequences such as a DUI because they are drinking at home. Three-martini playdates are often thought of as a fun way for stay-at-home mothers to blow off the steam of being with the kids all day and as a way to bond with other moms.

Further, many women turn to alcohol and drugs in order to be able to "do it all".  Use of stimulants can help a woman raise 3 kids, do well at a high powered job, keep up the household and still have energy for the gym on a regular basis.  On top of all of this, according to the research, women are more likely than men to see health care providers on a regular basis, thus increasing their access to prescription drugs with abuse potential.  Similarly, women are just as likely as men to drink or use drugs to medicate depression and anxiety, but are more likely than men to present to a mental health provider for help, resulting in more prescriptions for benzodiazepines and sleeping aids.

Substance abuse in women is often overlooked because the abuse itself is often normalized, seen as a response to today's pressures on women.  Often women recognize the fact that they are depressed or anxious and will go to treatment for the mood condition, unaware that substance abuse needs to be addressed as well.  If and when the need for substance abuse treatment is recognized, there are often gender specific barriers to women accessing and staying in treatment.  Some of the more common and problematic barriers are:

Fear- Women with children face the very real fear of being separated from or losing primary custody of their children.  In addition, image management, while also a factor for men, can deter a woman from entering treatment due to fears about what it will look like and what others will think about her.  Women also tend to have more fears about paying for treatment as compared to men, as many women do not earn as much as men, are underemployed or unemployed.

Childcare- It is well documented in the literature that women have a harder time accessing treatment if they are the primary caregivers of young children.  Treatment initiation and retention rates are much higher for women when there is some assistance with childcare and/or when the children are allowed to stay with the mother while she is in treatment.  For many women, paying for treatment along with childcare is too much of a financial burden.

History of Trauma-  For women with a history of physical and sexual trauma, entering mixed gender treatment is often a deterrent.  Programs that offer gender specific therapy groups and therapists equipped to handle trauma increase the success of a woman entering, staying in, and ultimately being successful in addiction treatment.

Psychological/Cultural- As stated above, women often view their own substance abuse as temporary, a crutch to help deal with the pressures of working, caring for children, caring for aging parents, running a household.  Though women are more likely than men to admit to needing help, they are less likely to actually go to treatment to get the help they need. Women also suffer from shame factors that are different from men's, and admit to higher levels of suicidal ideation and low self worth directly related to substance abuse and dependence.

The more that women's issues are well understood and addressed in treatment settings, the more successful a woman can be at obtaining help and achieving long term sobriety.  Addressing each woman's specific history thoroughly in an intake procedure can ensure that the right setting is available (i.e gender specific group for a woman with a lot of male perpetrated trauma vs. a mixed gender group for a woman needing to strengthen her platonic relationships with men).  It is also important for treatment providers to continue to address these needs along the course of treatment, as they may change, and for providers and treatment centers be sensitive to the needs of each woman individually, rather than generally as women.

New Hope Recovery Center offers gender specific programming. If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, it is important to call and go in for an assessment with a professional.  All assessments at New Hope Recovery Center are confidential with no obligation for further treatment. Recovery is possible, let us help. Call us at 888-707-4673 or Email us at info@new-hope-recovery.com.

Written by: New Hope Recovery Center

Want more information about treatment for specific populations? Check out our Journal for related articles or see below:

Lesbians Seeking Drug and Alcohol Treatment Alcohol and drug abuse is a major concern for individuals who identify as lesbian. A reportpublished by SAMHSA in 2011 found people who identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) are significantly more likely than the general population to use and abuse drugs or alcohol. This same study found lesbians are significantly more likely than heterosexual women to drink alcohol heavily.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment for Latino and Hispanic People There are several things to be aware of when working with the Spanish communities for drug or alcohol addiction.  Cultural identity is one of the most important factors to keep in mind when working with the Spanish community.  For example: Cubans, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans identify themselves as Hispanics; while Central Americans and South Americans identify themselves as Latinos for the most part.

Senior Citizens: Alcohol Abuse and Misuse Seniors citizens and alcohol abuse and misuse is a serious problem. With the rapidly growing senior population, it is more important than ever to stay informed about the potential mental/behavioral health threats seniors are experiencing. People seldom think of alcohol abuse or misuse to be a problem in the senior population and rarely see that they are at risk of this behavior. There are major life changes affecting this population, which leads many seniors to begin abusing or misusing alcohol (and medications), even if they never showed signs of this behavior earlier in life.

Student Drug Abuse Warning Signs Young adults face many temptations and opportunities to use and abuse drugs and alcohol.  As a parent, it is important to allow for appropriate independence and growth for your student or young adult, but also to keep a watchful eye looking for warning signs or symptoms of drug or alcohol use/addiction. Part of growing up involves making mistakes and hopefully learning from them.  These teachable moments allow students and emerging adults to learn how to respond better in the future.