Information on Substance Abuse Treatment for Women

Created On Tuesday, 12, January 2016
Modified On Friday, 17, September 2021

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Substance abuse impacts millions of Americans. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 60.1 of Americans aged 12 and older used a substance in the past month. Men and women struggle with addiction differently, and drug rehab centers treat men and women differently. Across the nation are men-only and women-only substance abuse treatment. Typically, men and women approach treatment differently. For example, men are less likely to ask for help, but more men are in rehabilitation than women. According to the National Institute on Drug Use, women develop substance use disorders quicker than men. Also, women develop more anxiety disorders and suffer from more panic attacks. Approximately four million women report past-year misuse of pain medication, and 55% of treatment admissions for barbiturate abuse are women.

Generally, women are better at identifying problems with addiction and taking the necessary steps to get help. During a family intervention, women are usually easier to convince to attend treatment; however, statistically, women do not remain in treatment longer than men. Many women struggle with being away from their families, which includes their children. Unfortunately, when women leave treatment and return to a home environment where there is stress, other people that are addicted, or access to drugs or alcohol, the relapses are worse. Remaining in treatment is the best option, and it takes the support and help from family and friends.

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According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women are more likely than men to face multiple barriers to accessing substance abuse treatment. Research shows that gender-specific treatment is no more effective than mixed-gender treatment. However, certain women may only seek treatment in women-only programs for specific reasons. Women-only treatment programs pay greater attention to the women in their programs and their special needs. However, the first step is accessing treatment and finding a program that works. Typically, women are statistically referred to treatment by a social worker due to family service agency involvement. However, women are more likely than men to experience economic barriers when seeking treatment. Also, they are more likely to have trouble finding the time to attend regular treatment sessions.

Substance Abuse Among Women

Women generally become addicted to drugs after using smaller doses and for shorter periods of time. Also, they are more sensitive to the effects of certain drugs because of sex hormones, and they experience different changes in their brains. Women are more likely to experience anxiety or depression when using drugs and are more likely to die from an overdose. Women are also more susceptible to cravings and relapse, making it difficult to end the cycle of addiction. Women use different drugs more than other drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fewer women use marijuana than men. Research has shown that marijuana impairs spatial memory in women more than it does in men. Women struggling with marijuana addiction suffer from more panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and these disorders develop more quickly.

Women are also more vulnerable to the reinforcing effects of stimulants, with estrogen possibly being one factor for increased sensitivity. Some research has shown that women are more sensitive to the effects of cocaine on their heart and blood vessels. Women use methamphetamine because they believe it will increase energy and decrease exhaustion. Also, they tend to use these drugs at an earlier age than men and become more dependent. Drugs like MDMA produce stronger hallucinatory effects in women than men. Research surrounding heroin shows that women tend to use smaller amounts of heroin and for less time and are less likely to inject it. However, women who use heroin are younger and more influenced by drug-using sexual partners.

Women are also more likely to take pain medication without a prescription to cope with pain. Research has suggested that women are more likely to misuse prescription opioids to treat other problems such as anxiety and tension. According to NIDA, in 2016, 7,109 women died from a prescription opioid overdose, which is about 19 women per day. When involving other prescription drugs, women are more likely to seek treatment for misuse of central nervous system depressants. Prescriptions for antidepressants and benzodiazepines send more women than men to emergency departments. Surrounding alcohol, men have higher rates of alcohol use, which includes binge drinking. However, women have death rates 50 to 100 percent higher than men with alcohol. These deaths include suicide, alcohol-related accidents, heart disease, stroke, and liver disease.

When is Substance Abuse Treatment for Women the Best Option?

Many women begin using drugs for legitimate medical purposes, and they may not be aware of the risks of addiction. There are many reasons why women become addicted to drugs or alcohol, and this could include loneliness, stress, fatigue, low self-esteem, or body image issues. Additionally, more women struggling with chronic pain leading to prescription pain medication. Women are profoundly more likely to be the victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and emotional abuse, creating significant trauma. For many women, substance abuse starts as a way of taking control of something about themselves. Substance abuse treatment is the best option for addiction, and solutions to the addiction and underlying issues require well-rounded rehabilitation.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, women tend to use substances differently than men and respond to them differently. When family and friends begin to notice the signs of addiction, it is time for an intervention. Women who use drugs may also experience more physical effects on their heart and blood vessels. Women who are victims of domestic violence are at increased risk of substance use. Rehabilitation becomes an option who have experienced divorce or loss of child custody because of their addiction. Also, substance use during pregnancy is dangerous, requiring immediate treatment.

Generally, treatment for substance use disorders in women progresses differently than for men. For example, withdrawal may also be more intense for women, and women respond differently than men to certain treatments. There are also specific programs that help pregnant women struggling with addiction. Early intervention is essential because substance use in women tends to develop into addiction more quickly than in men. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for women to get help for a substance use problem during or after pregnancy because of social or legal fears. Not every program provides child care, which does prevent some women from attending treatment.

How do Women-Only Drug Rehabilitation Programs Operate?

Substance abuse treatment centers for women focus on mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual support. Women-only treatment programs provide a foundation of full recovery and treat the specific needs of women. However, the process of rehabilitation is the same as any other program. Treatment begins with an assessment or evaluation, followed by detox and treatment within an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation center. The initial assessment determines what the severity of the addiction is, underlying medical problems, and what treatment is required. Detox is necessary depending on the frequency, duration, and quantity of use. For example, prescription opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines would require medically supervised detox. Following detox, the next step involves attending inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation.

Residential drug rehabilitation is the best option because it provides all the necessary services onsite. Long-term residential treatment for women usually lasts three to six months or more, but this depends on the facility. Short-term residential treatment lasts three to six weeks, and outpatient programs provide short-term or long-term options. According to a journal article titled Substance Abuse in Women, women are less likely to enter treatment. However, once women enter rehabilitation, gender itself is not a predictor of treatment retention, completion, or outcome.

Additionally, most women who enter substance abuse treatment are mothers, and at least half have had contact with child services. Treatment programs provide various forms of counseling, family support, parental counseling, and education to help women struggling with addiction. Well-rounded rehabilitation, followed by aftercare support, is essential. Aftercare support would include sober living homes for women, peer support groups, or 12-step meetings, and women support groups. Women-only rehabilitation programs offer extensive services.

Common Reasons Why Women Abuse Drugs or Alcohol

Most girls and women initiate substance use during crucial years. Substance abuse is often tied to the stress and pressures experienced during the teenage and young adult years. Many women experience trauma in early life or even later in life. Among adolescent girls attending treatment, nearly twice as many girls than boys report sexual or physical abuse in their lifetime. Unfortunately, if proper counseling or therapy is not received, the trauma from this abuse persists into adulthood. Also, there is the stress and inability to cope. In most cases of severe stress, young women become depressed and withdrawn. Many women report an inability to cope with stress as the main reason for using drugs. Stressful life events also contribute to substance abuse.

Low self-esteem and confidence also cause women to abuse drugs or alcohol. Body image and social image at a young age creates significant points of stress. Drugs and alcohol become a way of coping, and it slowly develops into an addiction. Young women often face social pressures, such as with a new school or new job, and women attending university or college struggle with academic pressures. Many of these addictions begin with alcohol or prescription drugs. The most commonly used substances among women are alcohol, nicotine, and prescription medications. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 4.1% of women aged 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder.

Overall, women tend to have different circumstances that men do not often experience that inform their decisions to use and abuse drugs or alcohol. However, like men, women use drugs to reduce stress, lose weight, and face certain demands of society. Countless addictions begin with self-medication and excessive drinking. For example, there is a strong connection between substance abuse and eating disorders. Among cases of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, approximately 85-90% are women, and about 50% of women with eating disorders also have a substance use disorder.

According to the SAMHSA, women often report that stress, negative affect, and relationships precipitate initial substance use. Relationships, relationship status, and the effects of a partner’s substance abuse significantly influence women. Women dependent on substances are more likely to have partners with substance use disorders. SAMHSA also points out that factors that encourage women to stay in treatment include supportive therapy, a collaborative therapeutic alliance, onsite childcare, children services, and other integrates and comprehensive treatment services. Also, within the report, women have comparable abstinence rates with men and are as likely to complete treatment. Women are also more likely to have positive treatment outcomes in terms of less incarceration, higher rates of employment, and more established recovery-oriented social support systems.

Common Terms with Substance Use Treatment for Women

Term Definition
Alcohol Use Disorder is a chronic relapsing problem involving alcohol; it is also the impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.
Binge Drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration levels to 0.08g/dl, which occurs after four drinks for women in about two hours.
Heavy Alcohol Use is defined as binge drinking alcohol on five or more days in the past month. Heavy alcohol use occurs less frequently with women than men.
Women Only Drug Treatment rehabilitation centers for women that operate as either inpatient or outpatient facilities. These rehabilitation programs cater to the specific needs of women struggling with addiction.
Eating Disorder are illnesses in which the individual experiences severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. The person becomes preoccupied with food and their body weight. Unfortunately, many women struggling with an eating disorder are also abusing drugs or alcohol.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is a group of problems that occurs in a newborn who was exposed to opioid drugs for a length of time while in the mother's womb. Rehabilitation is essential for pregnant women struggling with addiction.
Opioid Addiction are a class of drugs that include heroin, synthetic opioids like fentanyl, and pain medication. Most opioid addictions involving women began with managing chronic pain.
Benzodiazepine Addiction these drugs are prescription sedatives that cause a calming effect and are highly addictive. Prescription sedatives are commonly abused by women struggling with stress.
Depressants sometimes called downers, these drugs are central nervous system depressants reducing arousal and stimulation. The drugs slow down brain activity and affect the central nervous system.
Stimulants is a broad term to describe many different drugs, such as those that increase activity on the central nervous system and the body. Illegal stimulants would include cocaine, and legal stimulants are prescription amphetamines.

CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ARTICLE

Marcel Gemme, DATS - Author

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Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.


Michael Leach, CCMA - Medically Reviewed on September 17, 2021

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Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, who has over 5 years of experience working in the field of addiction. He spent his career working under the board-certified Addictionologist Dr. Rohit Adi. His experience includes working with families during their loved one’s stay in treatment, helping those with substance abuse issues find treatment, and teaching life skills to patients in a recovery atmosphere. Though he has worked in many different areas of rehabilitation, the majority of his time was spent working one on one with patients who were actively withdrawing from drugs. Withdrawal and the fear of going through it is one biggest reason why an addict continues to use and can be the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process. His experience in the withdrawal atmosphere has taught him that regardless of what approach a person takes to get off drugs, there are always mental and emotional obstacles that need to be overcome. He believes having someone there to help a person through these obstacles can make all the difference during the withdrawal process.