Women’s Addiction Treatment

What is Addiction?

Women's Addiction Treatment

Addiction is a disease that effects the brain in a complex way, causing it to constantly crave alcohol or drugs to the point that it becomes detrimental to a person’s life. It can cause extreme damage to a person’s life, workplace, education, and interfere with their neighborhoods.

“40 million Americans ages 12 and older—or more than 1 in 7 people—abuse or are addicted to nicotine, alcohol or other drugs. This is more than the number of Americans with heart conditions (27 million), diabetes (26 million) or cancer (19 million).”

Addiction can often be chronic and require intense treatment in order to overcome it. Most people will attend a residential or outpatient treatment program where they receive the necessary therapies to treat their underlying addiction problem.

Addiction in Women

Women tend to use substances in a different way than men, possibly due to hormones such as their menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding, fertility, menopause, and other hormones. “In addition, women themselves describe unique reasons for using drugs, including controlling weight, fighting exhaustion, coping with pain, and attempts to self-treat mental health problems.”

Risk Factors for Women and Addiction

Science suggests that there are biological differences that may cause women to experience substance use disorders due to hormonal changes.

  • Women often will often use drugs for a shorter period of time and in smaller doses than men
  • Women who use certain substances are more likely to suffer from panic attacks, anxiety, or depression
  • Women may be more likely to relapse after treatment and have more cravings compared to men
  • Women may be more sensitive than men to the effects of some drugs due to specific hormones
  • Women may experience physical effects on their heart or blood vessels due to drug use
  • The brain changes in a woman during drug use is different than of a man
  • Women may be more likely to die or go to the emergency room for severe reactions to drugs or other substances than of men
  • Women are at an increased risk for substance use if they have experienced domestic violence
  • Life events such as divorce, death, or loss of custody of a child may cause a woman to use a substance or cause other mental health disorders

Substance Use While Pregnant or Breastfeeding

It can be very risky to use substances during pregnancy and could potentially harm the mother or child for the short or long-term. There are certain drugs that can negatively affect an unborn baby, such as opioids and other stimulants. Some stimulants or drugs can even cause miscarriages, seizures, migraines or high blood pressure in the mother. Additionally, stillbirth is 2-3 times more likely in a woman who smokes marijuana, uses illegal drugs, or takes prescription pain relievers.

“Surveys suggest that more women are using marijuana during pregnancy, which has health professionals concerned. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) suggests that marijuana can result in smaller babies, especially in women who use marijuana frequently in the first and second trimesters.”

Symptoms of Addiction

  • Needing to use the drug regularly — daily or even multiple times a day
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the drug
  • Failed attempts at discontinuing using the drug Intense cravings for the drug that block out any other thoughts
  • Spending a good deal of time getting the drug, using the drug or recovering from the effects of the drug
  • Driving or engaging in other risky behaviors when you’re under the influence of the drug
  • Doing things that could be harmful to your life to get drugs or alcohol, such as stealing
  • Over time, needing more of the drug to get the same effect
  • Continuing to use the drug, even though it’s causing problems in your life or causing you physical or psychological harm
  • Taking more of a drug than intended or for a longer period of time
  • Maintaining a constant supply of a drug or keeping a “stash”
  • Spending money on the drug, despite financial difficulties
  • Not meeting work or family obligations or cutting back on activities that were once enjoyed

Treatment for Women with Addiction

Women who are in treatment for a substance use disorder often find struggles with the stigma that comes with an addiction problem and other barriers that make it more difficult for them to remain in treatment. Women who are pregnant or women with children will face extreme struggles with finding a treatment program that will meet their needs and allow them to remain present in their personal life.

“Pregnancy status can significantly influence treatment engagement and retention. Grella (1999) concluded that pregnant women were more likely to spend less time in treatment, and that pregnancy interrupted treatment.”

Generally, a woman who is in the early stages of pregnancy, typically the first trimester, will have a more difficult time remaining in treatment. Someone who is later in their pregnancy will tend to have a higher chance of completing the program.

Types of Treatment for Women

There are various forms of treatment that have been known to be successful in treating women for addiction treatment.

Supportive Therapy

Being supportive, warm, caring, safe and nurturing will help a woman be more successful in treatment for addiction. Women will benefit from a more supportive approach to their therapy and have the most success than from other types of therapies and treatment methods.

Collaborative Approach

Proper therapy needs to be treated with a collaborative approach, focusing on all aspects of treatment including food, housing, and transportation first. The primary needs of the client is often what causes the most stress and needs to be addressed right away. After this process is figured out, a woman will gain trust and feel comfortable addressing their substance use disorder.

Same-sex versus mix-gender groups

Although, there is more research that needs to be done to find a definitive conclusion, women typically thrive better in a treatment program with same-sex groups.

“Several qualitative studies (Grosenick and Hatmaker 2000Nelson-Zlupko et al. 1996Ravndal and Vaglum 1994) have highlighted that women perceive same-sex or female-only groups as more beneficial than mix-gender groups because they provide the women more freedom to talk about difficult topics such as abuse and relationship issues and to focus on themselves rather than on the men in the group.”

Studies that are more rigorous will be able to provide more information on what type of program is best for women in treatment.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a substance use disorder, reach out for help right away. It is best to get treatment as soon as possible. There are many treatment options available to you, no matter where you are, and whatever your addiction is.


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