While it’s evident that substance use disorders look different from woman to woman, we can identify some helpful common ground in SUDs among women as a whole. These basic facts can be useful in understanding the factors that contribute to substance use, seeing addiction as a treatable condition and recovery as an achievable goal, and recognizing the value in programs to help with building life skills as a part of recovery. So, today we’ll look at seven essential facts about substance use disorders in women and how to find the right program to address these disorders.
Women of any age can develop any type of substance use disorder, and the high occurrence of both SUDs and mental health disorders in women make longer term treatment with support for co-occurring disorders a recommended option to explore. For women who have participated in programs previously for only an SUD and did not receive simultaneous treatment for a co-occurring mental health disorder, the risk of relapse is higher even if short-term recovery is achieved. Undiagnosed trauma, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, abandonment by a parent, or living with a parent with an SUD or mental illness can also contribute to the development of SUDs in a woman later in life.
Women can develop any type of substance use disorder.
Although movies, television, and other forms of pop culture may choose to focus on particular substances, such as alcohol or benzos, women seek treatment for all kinds of SUDs. This list includes cocaine, heroin, meth, marijuana, and much more. A woman’s age and environment may affect what she has access to and that can change over time, of course.
Women may have more than one SUD at the same time.
Women seeking support for a substance disorder may be using more than one substance at any given time. For example, the use of alcohol by day and marijuana at night could be one woman’s routine. Again, access to a substance can change and she may choose whatever becomes available to get high and alternate between the two substances.
Women are likely to have co-occurring mental health disorders.
It’s not uncommon for a woman with an SUD to have a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety. She may not know she has a mental health condition as it may not be evident to her personally or it hasn’t been diagnosed yet. The presence of the mental health disorder may precede the SUD or the frequent use of substances may have contributed to the development of the mental health disorder.
Women may not receive recovery support for an SUD and co-occurring mental health disorder.
Receiving treatment through an outpatient program or an inpatient program in the past does not mean the treatment was suitable necessarily. Even a past residential program that led to a short-term recovery may have been inadequate if it did not diagnose and treat a co-occurring mental health disorder. Addiction specialists recommend women with an SUD and co-occurring mental health disorder receive longer term support and ongoing care after residential treatment.
Women may have undiagnosed trauma from childhood, adolescence, or adulthood contributing to their SUDs.
Similar to an undiagnosed mental health disorder in women, trauma from any point in their lives can be a contributing factor to a woman developing a substance use disorder. This trauma could come from abandonment in early childhood, mental illness in a parent, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, a serious injury or illness, and many other types of traumatic events. An adult woman may not even remember the traumatic incident, regardless of when it occurred during the course of her life.
Women can benefit from gender-specific recovery support.
Peer support is an essential part of a treatment program, and gender-specific care can provide women an opportunity to receive support from their peers and learn how to create healthy relationships with other women, an element that may have been lacking in their lives. Gender-specific care also involves creating a safe space for recovery in a women-led environment.
Women with SUDs may need help building life skills to help them sustain recovery.
Treatment for substance use and mental health issues are only a part of creating a new life following a program. Women may need additional help learning the skills necessary to find safe housing, secure employment, get legal counseling, and more. These life skills help create the stability needed for a woman to be able to focus on sustaining her recovery through meetings, outpatient programs, and other resources.