Substance Abuse Treatment for Women

When we think about addiction and substance abuse rehab, it’s not uncommon to assume that the concept of treatment is roughly the same regardless of gender. While it’s true that the underlying techniques and concepts involved in rehab are much the same, there are significant differences between how men and women experience addiction that can have a real impact on an individual’s therapeutic needs. For many women, a gender-specific focus can be especially valuable.

Addiction Treatment for Women: a Unique Perspective

Historically, men have been at the center of society. Although we have made great strides regarding equality, over the past few decades, much of the medical and academic information we have about human physiology and addiction treatment is still based on studies performed primarily on men.¹ For this and other reasons, we at Yellowstone Recovery take it upon ourselves to make sure we consider the perspectives of women in our programs.

Why Women Use Addictive Substances

The reasons that women use various addictive substances vary. Some may begin using drugs socially under pressure from friends, while others may begin drinking excessively to self-medicate for things like depression and anxiety. Whatever the details, most reasons stem from an underlying desire to escape some manner of physical or emotional distress.

Patterns in Substance Abuse by Women

Look at some of the intriguing patterns seen in women’s substance abuse:

  • As of 2017, more than 62 million women (aged 12 or older) reported having used illicit drugs at some point during their lifetimes.²
  • Women are less likely to become addicted to substances than men are, but they are more likely to struggle with quitting later on.³
  • Women are also more likely to struggle with relapse than men, possibly due to physiological differences in the way their bodies handle things like stress.³
  • Women tend to become dependent on alcohol more quickly than men, in part because they tend to weigh less and have more body fat than men.³

The Psychology of Addiction in Women

The psychological elements of addiction among women also play a major role. Women often face extreme pressure to measure up to social ideals of success as a wife, mother, career woman, etc. For many women, the stress of trying to balance home and work in order to fit a problematic definition of womanhood can lead to a desperate need for escape.

In some cases, women have experienced things like domestic abuse, sexual assault, and other serious kinds of trauma that can increase their risk of substance abuse. When they find that they have trouble quitting the substance or experience multiple relapses, they may start to falsely believe that there is something wrong with them, when in fact women simply statistically face greater challenges in these areas.

Core Principles of Women’s Substance Abuse Treatment

Principles like the following are integral to the way we look at drug addiction treatment for women:

  1. Women’s needs are unique from those of men both physiologically and psychologically.
  2. Understanding each individual woman’s personal situation is key to helping her succeed. Context is key!
  3. Things like socioeconomics, relationships, social attitudes, and past trauma are just as important to consider as any other element of a woman’s addiction.
  4. Social beliefs and unfair expectations of women can affect women’s self-esteem as well as the expectations they have for themselves in recovery and in life.
  5. Women respond best to a strengths-based, multidisciplinary program.
  6. For women who do not feel safe or comfortable in a co-ed environment, women-only treatment is a safe haven where they can focus on the recovery process.

Properly Assessing a Woman’s Situation

One of the keys to ensuring a successful course of treatment is properly assessing a woman’s individual situation. While the core of addiction treatment is much the same across clients, the exact plan, goals, and care involved need to be carefully tailored to an individual’s needs in order to safely achieve the desired long-term effects.

A woman who began using heroin when she was forced to live on the streets comes into rehab with a very different life experience than a college student who began misusing stimulant medications for study purposes. Each woman has her own unique career, family, and health situations that will need to be considered if she is to succeed.

Addressing Women’s Unique Challenges

When treating drug or alcohol addictions for women, there are numerous physical, emotional, mental, and social challenges that can arise. While much of a woman’s treatment will be similar to the way men are treated for addiction, there are unique circumstances and physiological conditions that can require specialized care and consideration.

Certain physiological and social differences may need to be taken into account;  biochemistry, hormone levels, body composition, career, social ties, and parental responsibilities, just to name a few. A woman who has children at home, for example, may need help figuring out what to do about child care while she is in treatment.

Unfortunately, sexism and stigma sometimes add challenges of their own. Because women statistically have a harder time recovering from addiction and may be more susceptible to relapse than men, they may feel inadequate or incapable by comparison. Distorted thoughts and negative self-talk may lead a woman to believe she is a bad mother, wife, girlfriend, daughter, employee, or friend simply because she is dealing with this illness.

Treatment Programs for Women Are Available!

A variety of addiction treatment options are available to women struggling with substance abuse issues. Many professional rehab facilities offer gender-specific treatment programs so that female clients can feel safe in a women-only recovery environment. At Yellowstone Recovery, we offer women a secure, compassionate place to recover and grow with same-gender peers.

Your struggle with addiction doesn’t have to last forever—we can help you regain your strength and independence. Call Yellowstone Recovery today at (888) 418-4188 to learn how you can get the help you deserve in one of our effective residential, outpatient, or intensive outpatient programs.




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