A Guide to Substance Abuse Recovery for Women

Substance use disorder, drug abuse, and addiction affect both men and women, and neither gender is safe from developing this disorder. There is no single determining factor for why some people develop an addiction disorder, and others do not. Trying a drug, drinking alcohol, or taking a prescription with addictive properties is like playing Russian Roulette. A combination of different risk factors can increase a person’s addiction profile, but risk factors for addiction and protective factors against addiction are not crystal balls that can accurately predict whether or not a person will struggle with substance abuse issues in their lifetime.

Guide for Women in Recovery

Overall, men are almost twice as likely as women to develop a drug or alcohol addiction. Approximately 11.5% of men, versus 6.4% of women have substance use disorder. Although men face higher rates of drug addiction and abuse than females, women who are addicted to substances face more substantial obstacles when it comes to obtaining integrated, comprehensive treatment and achieving and maintaining sobriety.

In general, a woman who tries the same drug as a man is more likely to become addicted to that drug faster than her male peer. Addicted women are also at higher risk of suffering from medical and social consequences related to addiction and substance abuse. For women, it’s even harder to quit drugs for good. Hormonal differences and the unique way that women’s hormones are continuously fluctuating during the reproductive years make it more difficult for women to overcome drug or alcohol cravings.

Other notable differences between men and women when it comes to substance use disorder center around issues with access to care, and women’s unique risk factors for relapse. Women will also abuse drugs for reasons that typically differ from the top reasons why men abuse drugs or alcohol. For women, intimate partner and family abuse, problems with self-esteem, and higher rates of depression and anxiety tend to trigger substance abuse in at-risk females. Women will also abuse drugs as a way to curb their appetite or to fight exhaustion. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol because of peer pressure as adolescents and young adults, to experiment, or to de-stress.

Recovering from substance abuse as a woman also includes more complicating factors that men usually don’t face, such as childcare issues, access to birth control, hormone fluctuations, and pregnancy. For women in recovery for addiction and substance abuse, it’s critical to understand these risk factors. Education is a key factor in reaching sobriety and achieving a successful outcome after detox and attending a rehab facility.

Guide for Women in Recovery

What are the major differences in treatment for substance abuse rehabilitation for women, versus men?

Drug addiction and substance abuse impact men and women in different ways, so it stands to reason that treatment for these issues will differ for both genders. Integrated treatment models that address the whole person are usually the most effective for women who are struggling with addiction issues. These treatment programs address all aspects of the addiction disease, including the spiritual, social, physical, and mental aspects of substance abuse and addiction.

Guide for Women in Recovery

In most addiction cases, people use drugs or alcohol as a way to either alleviate underlying mental health disorder symptoms or to cope with emotional pain and stress. These contributing factors in addiction differ for men and women. For women, they are more likely to have eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. Women also struggle more often than men with body image issues and also past sexual and physical abuse and trauma, which can all significantly impact the start of an addiction disorder, or worsen an existing addiction tendency. Treatment centers that cater to exclusively female patients are designed and equipped to handle these unique, gender-specific problems that women tend to face.

Also, women are more likely than men to measure their life satisfaction against the health of their relationships, and the ability to connect with other people. Access to a team of supportive, empathetic counselors is crucial for women in recovery. Support groups and group therapy are also ideal for women in rehab for addiction. Women don’t necessarily fare better in women-only rehab programs. Both mixed-gender and gender-specific treatment programs are effective in helping women achieve and maintain sobriety. However, women with a history of past sexual abuse or physical violence from men may benefit from a women-only facility where they can receive supportive care from female counselors and therapists.

What are the necessary things women need to make a recovery from addiction?

Overwhelmingly, women are still the primary caregivers for minor children, and they are also more likely than men to be caretakers for elderly or disabled family members. While both men and women face a powerful stigma attached to addiction issues, women tend to feel this stigma more strongly than men, especially if they are mothers to small children. Also, women with young children may fear that they will lose custody of their child if they seek help for addiction. Fear, shame, and social stigma keep many women from admitting they have a disorder and seeking treatment.

Also, studies have found that women are more likely to ask for help with addiction from primary care doctors or mental health clinics. They are less likely than men to contact a drug addiction or alcohol rehabilitation center, and stigma surrounding the disorder could be to blame. Many rehab centers that are not gender-specific don’t offer help for the unique barriers that women face, either.

When it comes to seeking treatment for addiction, women face several obstacles that the average man typically does not – lower wages, child custody issues, caregiving responsibilities, and intimate partner abuse.

Concerns related to drug use, pregnancy and childbirth also impact many women in rehab. As little as four percent of all women who enter a drug addiction rehabilitation center are pregnant at the time they are admitted. But the impact of drug or alcohol use on the developing fetus can be catastrophic. Using substances as a pregnant woman also increases the chances of adverse physical health effects on the mother, including seizures, high blood pressure, and preterm labor.

Guide for Women in Recovery
Guide for Women in Recovery

Women who abuse tobacco, marijuana, prescription narcotics, or illegal drugs while pregnant are up to three times as likely to give birth to a stillborn baby than pregnant women who do not abuse substances.

Women who are pregnant and addicted to drugs face even greater stigma, scrutiny, and possible punishment that men do not have to face. Gender-specific treatment centers are more likely than mixed-gender facilities to offer onsite childcare, prenatal care, and education about drug addiction and substance use for pregnant women.

How do women recover from substance use disorder differently than men?

Recovery programs that offer supportive, non-judgmental care are more effective for women. It’s critical that women receive guidance from therapists, they can trust, and with whom they can build a rapport. For women in recovery from addiction, they will have the most success if they can form a relationship with a therapist who can hold them accountable for their actions, without finding fault or passing judgment.

Shame and guilt surrounding addiction issues tend to impact women more profoundly than men. Forming strong, supportive relationships with a therapist and also in group therapy with other patients is a significant motivator for women. A meaningful way to improve a woman’s chances of recovering from addiction is to cultivate strong and healthy relationships with other women in recovery who share similar struggles, concerns, and victories.

Also, problems with interpersonal and romantic relationships tend to be a common trigger for women with substance use issues. Initial treatment and ongoing recovery for women tend to be the most successful when therapy focuses on helping women achieve stronger levels of self-reliance outside of rehab. Fostering a sense of empowerment, and teaching women to trust themselves over others is vital for women’s recovery from substance abuse.

Initial recovery happens more quickly for women than men, but women are at higher risk of relapse and more frequent relapse incidences than their male peers. Hormonal fluctuations sometimes play a role in the risk of relapse. It is thought that hormones play a critical role in the severity of drug or alcohol cravings.

Guide for Women in Recovery

How can female patients know if a rehab facility will cater to their specific needs?

Substance abuse and drug addiction affect people in different ways. For women especially, it’s essential to look for a rehab facility that will meet their specific needs and issues they face.

Pregnant women seeking treatment for substance abuse will need to find a rehab facility that can accommodate their prenatal needs.

Women who struggle with drug abuse as adults were often subjected to drug abuse as children, or abusive family situations when they were young. In many cases, these women grow up and become involved with peers or romantic partners who repeat these same, destructive patterns. Women facing these particular problems and influences need to find a center that staffs professionals who can accurately assess and account for how the patient’s past and present relationships impact her addiction. Therapy programs that address relationship skills, how to build and maintain firm boundaries, and how to be assertive are ideal for female patients with these struggles.

Women are more likely to stay in an abusive situation because of societal or financial pressure. These problems often worsen addiction and mental health disorder symptoms. Women facing these issues need to find a facility that can help them gain a sense of autonomy and safety while overcoming substance abuse disorder.

Women’s relationships with their children while in rehab will significantly impact her ability to recover from drug abuse or addiction. Female patients who are mothers need a rehab program that offers parenting classes and therapy that is geared toward strengthening the bond between parents and child. Some rehab centers even offer to counsel the children of addicted patients or provide referrals counselors or therapists who specialize in these complex issues and how to improve family relationships.

Do female-only rehab centers exist and can they benefit women more than a mixed gender facility?

Female-only rehab centers do exist, although they are not as common as mixed-gender facilities. No research overwhelmingly supports the idea of female-only rehab centers. However, women who have experienced significant trauma, and abuse from men can benefit from a women-only treatment center. Being able to feel safe in a facility is critical for a patient’s recovery from addiction.

What are the statistics on women who attend rehab versus men who attend rehab?

Men are more likely than women to attend drug or alcohol addiction rehab. For women, studies have found that they are more likely to try and obtain drug or alcohol addiction treatment from a primary care facility or a mental health facility. Studies have indicated that it’s critical to improve women’s access to care through primary care offices or psychiatric facilities. A lack of childcare and the ability to maintain their access to children is a significant factor for why women need more intensive, outpatient treatment models.

Do rehab centers offer childcare onsite?

Many intensive outpatient treatment programs and day programs offer onsite childcare for patients who are mothers. These facilities provide women the chance to attend rehab, counseling, and group therapy during the day while their children are cared for onsite. Inpatient rehab programs, however, do not typically offer onsite childcare. Women who need to stay in a rehab facility usually need to find a caregiver for their children while they are recovering. For many women, this is not a viable option. Instead, intensive outpatient programs offer women integrated, effective treatment that doesn’t involve the need to stay overnight at a facility.

Do women take a longer time to recover from substance abuse in a rehab center than men?

Women do not necessarily take longer than men to achieve initial sobriety when in rehab. However, they are more susceptible to relapse than men and are also less likely to maintain long periods of abstinence from drugs between relapse than their male peers.

It is critical that both men and women continue to receive ongoing maintenance and care after they achieve initial sobriety. A relapse does not mean that the treatment didn’t work. Continuing care and aftercare treatment programs are designed to assist women who relapse and help them recover quickly.

This guide is intended to be informational. If you are considering help for you or your loved one and would like more information, please consult a medical professional or licensed treatment facility.

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