No two people with substance use disorders are exactly alike, but women who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction often face certain challenges that are related to their gender.
For the best chance at a lasting recovery, these issues must be addressed as part of a comprehensive treatment program.
Substance abuse impairs judgement, which can often lead to unprotected sexual encounters. Drug and alcohol use during pregnancy carries a number of risks, including an increased chance of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and birth defects. Babies born to mothers who actively abused drugs during pregnancy may suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome, which means that they are experiencing withdrawal symptoms due to no longer receiving the substance they were exposed to in utero. Fetal alcohol syndrome, a name given to a group of birth defects related to alcohol exposure in utero, is a possibility when a mother continues to drink while pregnant.
Women with an addictive addiction who are currently pregnant must proceed with detox carefully to avoid placing their unborn child at risk. They must also receive intensive counseling to deal with the feelings of guilt and shame they may be experiencing.
2. Caregiving Responsibilities
Traditional gender roles may be blurring somewhat, but women still take on the bulk of caregiving tasks in the majority of homes. Caregiving can present a number of challenges for a woman with a substance abuse problem, including how to explain addiction to a child and balancing treatment schedules with childcare needs.
Although caregiving is often thought of as referring to young children, many women are also serving as caregivers for their elderly parents or other family members in need. This type of caregiving can be just as time-consuming and emotionally taxing as parental caregiving.
Substance abuse treatment for women with extensive caregiving duties needs to focus on healthy communication and building strong relationships as well as the importance of self-care and stress management. Women who feel overwhelmed by their caregiving roles and are reluctant to ask for help put themselves at a high risk of relapse.
A treatment facility that focuses on developing personalized care plans can help women address their specific caregiving concerns as well as the effect caregiving has on their mental health.
3. Past Trauma
Women who struggle with addiction often have a past history of trauma. Trauma can come in many different forms, but domestic violence and sexual assault are the most common types of trauma that disproportionately affect women.
Domestic violence can include both physical and emotional abuse. Women may experience domestic violence from spouses as well as their unmarried romantic partners. They may also witness their children being mistreated by their abusive partner.
Sexual assault can affect a woman’s mental health for years to come. Women who have been assaulted may struggle to form healthy romantic relationships or to enjoy sexual intimacy with a caring partner.
Treatment that focuses on trauma-informed care and holistic health can help women overcome their painful pasts and develop a wellness-focused lifestyle. Women-only support groups may also be an option to consider, since women may not feel comfortable discussing their trauma in a mixed-gender environment.
4. Mental Health Disorders
Mental health disorders often accompany addiction, since substance abuse may begin as a way to self-medicate the symptoms of a mental health condition. Anxiety, depression, and PTSD are more common in women than in men. Women with a history of traumatic life experiences and/or a family history of mental illness are most likely to develop these conditions.
Eating disorders are another mental health concern for women with addiction. Disordered eating can be a response to trauma or a way to cope with an unhealthy body image. A woman with anorexia may consume minimal food and exercise to excess, becoming dangerously thin. A woman with bulimia purges after eating, which results in noticeable weight loss but places tremendous stress on the digestive tract. A woman with a binge eating disorder consumes large quantities of unhealthy food without purging, which leads to weight gain and obesity-related health problems.
Having a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder is referred to as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Both issues must be addressed simultaneously to build the foundation for lasting sobriety.
5. Financial Considerations
Concerns about how to pay for addiction treatment are common, but women may experience more of a financial struggle than their male counterparts. Women are more likely to work in part time or temporary positions due to their caregiving responsibilities, which means they are less likely to be covered by FMLA protection or to have employer-provided health insurance.
Although financial worries are understandable, it would be a mistake to assume that treatment is unaffordable. Addiction treatment centers have admissions counselors who are trained to verify insurance coverage and provide information about alternative source of payment. For example, St. Joseph Institute for Addiction offers scholarships ranging in size from $2,500 to $8,000 based on financial need as well as assistance in obtaining financing to make treatment as affordable as possible.