4 Challenges Women Face in Addiction and Recovery

4 Challenges Women Face in Addiction and Recovery

Everyone faces different challenges in addiction and recovery. There are elements of recovery that everyone has in common, such as the need for social connection and support, making positive lifestyle changes, and treating co-occurring mental health issues. However, generally speaking, women often face different issues in addiction and recovery than men do. The following challenges for women should be considered when making a plan for treatment.

Women get addicted faster.

It used to be the case that men used drugs and alcohol much more frequently than women but in recent years that gap has narrowed. For example, one meta-analysis looked at 68 studies done in 36 countries of more than four million men and women. It showed that among people born in the early 1900s, twice as many men drank as women and three times as many men drank problematically. However, among people born in the late 1900s, the numbers were almost the same. What’s more, the studies that showed a convergence–which was the majority–also found that the gap had narrowed because women started drinking more. The researchers speculate that this change is due to greater equality among men and women, less stigma attached to women’s drinking, and, of course, advertising aimed at an underexploited market.

That’s a serious concern because women tend to develop addictions to many substances, including alcohol, much more quickly than men. Women, on average, are smaller than men but body size appears to be only a small part of the issue. Women produce less of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which breaks down alcohol. Women also generally have higher levels of body fat, which retains alcohol. As a result of these physiological differences, every drink for a woman is roughly equivalent to two drinks for a man. And a higher intensity of substance use typically leads addiction more quickly. 

Women are also likely to escalate opioid use more quickly than men. There are two related reasons for this. One is that women tend to experience painful medical conditions and undergo painful medical procedures more often than men, and are therefore prescribed opioid painkillers more often. However, studies also show that women respond to powerful pain medications, such as morphine, much less than men do. In fact, women may need twice the dose to feel comparable pain relief. As a result, more than half of opioid addictions in women begin with a prescription, compared to a third in men.

Substance use affects women’s health more quickly.

For many of the same reasons women become addicted more quickly, substance use, especially alcohol, can damage women’s health more quickly as well. The increase in drinking among women noted above has been matched by an increase in cirrhosis deaths among women. Although women are likely to start drinking later in life than men, they tend to experience adverse health effects such as liver disease and heart disease at a younger age. When seeking treatment for addiction, it’s important to be sure that an inpatient treatment center has the facilities and staff to care for clients with a co-occurring medical condition.

Women have different mental health risks.

Mental health issues are frequently a driving factor in addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 50 percent of adults and 60 percent of adolescents with a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental health issue.  The most common among many co-occurring issues are major depression and anxiety disorders. Women suffer from major depression and anxiety disorders at about twice the rate as men. In particular, women suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, at about twice the rate of men and PTSD massively increases the risk of developing a substance use disorder. There are a number of reasons for the differences in the rates of anxiety and depression. Part of it has to do with hormonal changes, especially during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, after childbirth, and during menopause, which often affect mood. Women are also more likely to be victims of abuse and sexual assault, which increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Trauma is especially common among women who develop substance use disorders.

There are more barriers to women getting help.

Women face several barriers to treatment that men typically don’t have to deal with. One is that women feel a greater stigma seeking help for a substance use disorder. Everyone feels this stigma to some extent, but women are still more sensitive to it. Ironically, women are far more likely than men to seek help for mental health issues but less likely to seek help for addiction. For example, among people with alcohol use disorder, about 7.4 percent of men receive treatment compared to only 5.4 percent of women. 

Children present another major barrier, beginning in pregnancy. Pregnant women face special challenges in getting treatment because it isn’t always safe to detox while pregnant. Withdrawal, especially from opioids or alcohol, can be incredibly stressful on the body and increases the risk of miscarriage. It’s crucial for pregnant women to tell their doctors about their substance use so they can make a plan to minimize harm to the fetus. 

Women with children face other obstacles. Many are afraid that they will lose custody of their children if they seek help for substance use. Some women are the sole caretakers and feel like they can’t miss work or that there’s no one who can care for their children while they seek treatment. While these are serious issues, there are typically ways to get treatment while caring for children. Outpatient services, for example, allow a mother to live at home and still work while receiving addiction treatment. 

At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-262-7970 or Info@PatrickHartConsultants.com or explore our website for more information.

AUTHOR: Hart Consultants