Women, Addiction and Recovery

There is a range of biological, social and environmental factors that denote risk of addiction, including gender. Although men and women are at an equal risk of developing a substance use disorder, women who have an addiction are also dealing with an entirely different set of circumstances than men. The differences between genders can be hugely influential in the development of addiction and warrant a gender-specific approach to treatment.

How Does Addiction in Women Begin?

Men typically begin using drugs or alcohol earlier in life and more frequently than women, but both genders, once introduced to substances, are equally likely to keep using them. According to the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence women are the fastest-growing segment of drug and alcohol users in the United States, and an estimated 4.5 million women ages 12 and older have a substance use disorder.

Women tend to use a smaller amount of substances for a short period of time before they become addicted, but they become addicted to substances faster than men. By the time a woman enters treatment, she’s often dealing with more medical, psychological and social repercussions, despite having used less of a substance for a shorter time.

Men and women may begin using drugs or alcohol for similar reasons, but the sources of those reasons vary. Women are drawn to substance use for reasons including:

  • Domestic violence and physical, sexual and verbal abuse.
  • Divorce, the loss of child custody or the death of a partner or child.
  • Mental health disorders, including panic attacks, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Stress, loneliness, low self-esteem and fatigue.
  • Body image issues.
  • Chronic pain, such as migraines, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.

Addiction Stigma and Barriers to Treatment

Addiction is stigmatized in general, but women deal with significantly more social repercussions than men because substance abuse problems interfere with more areas of a woman’s life than a man’s. That’s because compared to men, women take on many roles and responsibilities, including primary caregiver of young children, which adds another layer of judgment.

Women who are pregnant and have a substance use disorder are especially affected by stigma. A Canadian study found that 25% of pregnant opioid-dependent women didn’t receive treatment, and it’s believed that stigma was mostly to blame.

The process of receiving treatment is also markedly different for women. Although women may be more likely to confide in a mental health practitioner or health care provider, they face more barriers to treatment in addition to stigma, like family responsibilities, financial limitations and transportation issues.

Why Women-Only Treatment Works

Substance use disorder is a difficult battle for anyone, regardless of gender, but it can be especially challenging for women, who may feel reluctant to seek treatment for fear of legal or social repercussions.

Women tend to feel more comfortable and at ease in a women-only treatment center, where programming is designed to meet their needs. At BRC Recovery, our women-only treatment program is designed to establish a safe, accepting space where women feel comfortable discussing personal issues and experiences in the presence of other women to whom they relate.

BRC Recovery offers more group sessions, as well as non-traditional, alternative therapies that provide an outlet for expression outside of the traditional treatment setting. For more information about how our women-only addiction recovery program can help you or someone you love recover from addiction and experience permanent sobriety, contact a BRC Recovery Admissions Specialist at 1-866-461-1759.