For women, context is key to successful treatment. Issues involving family, relationships, support, gender, culture, and social or economic experiences play a substantial role in the development of addiction. Without appropriately addressing these factors in treatment, they will often resurface and play a role in relapse. Being comfortable enough to talk about these issues is crucial to lasting recovery which is why gender-specific treatment, including substance abuse treatment for women is so important.
Why Choose Specialized Treatment Programs?
Many treatment programs already implement specialized treatment designed to address specific needs. Dual-diagnosis treatment and age-specific treatment programs are successful due to their ability to cater to the unique needs of the population they serve. Through analyzing and treating individual needs, clients have a more well-rounded therapeutic experience that equips them to handle challenges that may threaten sobriety. Gender-specific treatment options, and substance abuse treatment for women, have become increasingly popular, as studies reveal that both the effects of and motivations for substance abuse between men and women often vary. These differences reveal that a standard cookie-cutter approach to treatment does not always work well and not everyone will experience the same level of success from the same treatment program. In fact, many of these approaches can be counter-productive, as they do not create a safe space for people to discuss sensitive issues that may not affect the larger community.
Addressing Gender-Specific Needs
Gender plays a substantial role in the development and evolution of addiction. Studies show that the risk factors for addiction often vary between genders and treatment needs often must shift to address that.
Some considerations involving women-specific treatment include:
The role of past relationships in women’s lives: Women’s relationships tend to play a bigger role in the development of addiction as compared to men. In many cases, women who abuse drugs or alcohol tend to have a substance-abusing partner. Drugs or alcohol becomes a means of communication and intimacy between partners. They are also more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors with partners, such as sharing needles. While substance-abusing partners can be dangerous enablers, the lack of meaningful relationships can also play a critical role in the development of addiction.
Unique health concerns for women: Women who abuse substances tend to have a history of co-occurring disorders or experienced trauma. Co-occurring disorders, such as eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can all influence the development of addiction. Drugs or alcohol become an escape from these conditions and provide a form of self-medication that only temporarily relieves symptoms, but can exacerbate the condition in the long-run.
Social experiences: Women who have experienced abuse or discrimination also tend to be at a greater risk for addiction. Drugs or alcohol become a means of coping with trauma. In many cases, women are also placed in a position where they are expected to be caregivers or mothers, and when they fail to meet these expectations (regardless of if they are real or perceived), the pressure can be stressful or difficult to deal with. These pressures are more often experienced by women and typically do not get addressed in mixed group settings. The Need for Women-Specific Treatment
While treatment is available to women, it can be difficult to access for a variety of reasons. Fear of losing custody of children, stigmas associated with substance abuse, cultural influences, and lack of social support can make it difficult for women to seek treatment. Many of these obstacles can be overcome, but fear or shame can prevent some from seeking help. Once a woman begins to receive treatment for addiction, however, they are just as likely as men to stay and complete the program.
Studies have led many treatment facilities to reevaluate the type of care and therapy they provide to female clients. Some have begun to integrate women-specific therapies to address the unique needs of their clients. Women tend to be impacted more quickly and heavily than men when it comes to using drugs or alcohol, meaning the damage they inflict often occurs over a shorter time frame. This can also mean that a woman may not use drugs or alcohol as long as a man does, but will experience the same level of damage—or more—within that window of time.
Additionally, the unique experiences of women must be addressed in order to overcome the underlying causes of substance abuse. Many cite a lack of meaningful relationships or trauma as major influences in the development of addiction. These topics are difficult to discuss with close friends or loved ones, but may become impossible once in a mixed group. Women-specific therapy options provide women with a safe place to interact with others who may share similar experiences. This allows them to recover amongst others with whom they can easily relate and helps them build a support network of peers, which is invaluable after treatment has been completed.
Content Originally Published By: Brittany @ Sober College