Studies have shown that women face unique challenges and barriers when it comes to substance use.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 19.5 million females used illicit drugs in the past year. Women not only progress faster in addiction than men but face different barriers to getting help. Understanding the unique challenges women face can not only help in getting proper treatment but can also improve the chances of long-lasting sobriety.
Biological factors play a role in women with substance use disorders.
Scientifically speaking, the physiological differences accelerate the process of substances in a woman’s bloodstream. Women metabolize alcohol and drugs differently than men, and fewer stomach enzymes expose the body to higher concentrations of the substance for a more extended amount of time. For women, one drink can be equivalent to two for their male counterparts.
Women face unique barriers to getting help.
The stigma attached to substance use disorders can often be stronger for women than for men. Seventy percent of women entering treatment have children. Mothers especially can experience guilt, fear, and shame associated with their substance use disorder. Some might feel as if they have failed or fear that they could lose custody of their children. Family responsibilities can deter women from seeking the help that they need. Other factors, such as low income, lack of access to resources, or inadequate personal support, can also play a role in why a woman might be hesitant to seek treatment.
Gender-specific treatment can be beneficial for women.
Often, women with a substance use disorder will also have a co-occurring mental health disorder present. Women in particular struggle with emotional problems and, for this reason, can develop anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and low self-esteem. Gender-specific treatment also allows women a safe space to openly discuss the unique challenges they face and will enable them to build and connect with others who share their same struggles.
It is essential to recognize and understand the specific needs and resources women need to cultivate long-lasting sobriety. Rather than shaming women seeking help for their substance use disorder, we should encourage them and offer the support they will need in their recovery.
It takes courage to reach out for help, but understanding that you are not alone in the process is vital to taking the first step.