Women’s Issues in Substance Abuse Recovery

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Clinically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

According to NCDAS (National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics), 17% of U.S. women aged over 18 used drugs in 2022. Despite this, only 20% of those in recovery are female.

Today’s guide to addiction treatment for women highlights the distinct difficulties that women encounter when seeking professional help for substance abuse.

Women and Addiction

Men have historically been more prone to abusing alcohol and drugs than women, although this gap is rapidly closing.

As we approach another Women’s History Month this March to showcase female contributions to world history and modern society, the yearly theme for 2023 is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” Celebrities like Demi Lovato, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Mary J. Blige have battled publicly with addictions and their stories are an inspiration to women the world over.

Before we address the obstacles encountered by women in recovery, first some statistics on addiction in females.

Addiction in Women Statistics

Women’s issues in recovery from addiction are influenced by the following factors:

  • Sex: differences due to biology.
  • Gender: differences due to the culturally-defined roles for women and men.

Researchers and addiction specialists have learned that women who abuse addictive substances can experience issues in the following areas:

  • Hormones
  • Fertility
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Menopause

According to data from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration):

19.5 million adult women in the United States report using illicit drugs in the previous year.

CDC data indicate that the number of women diagnosed with opioid use disorder at the point of delivery increased fourfold from 1999 to 2014.

Also consider the following addiction in women statistics:

  • Substance abuse in women occurs differently than in men. Typically, women use smaller quantities of addictive substances for less time than men before developing an addiction (substance use disorder).
  • Women who abuse substances may experience more adverse cardiovascular effects than men.
  • Many women report experiencing more intense drug cravings then men, leading to a heightened risk of relapse in recovery.
  • Sex hormones can increase the sensitivity of women to the effects of certain drugs.
  • Sustained substance abuse triggers changes to the structure and function of the brain. These changes manifest differently in women than in men.
  • Women are more likely to visit the emergency room after abusing substances.
  • Men are less likely than women to experience a life-threatening overdose.
  • Female victims of domestic violence are more prone to developing substance use disorder and mental health disorders.
  • Loss of child custody, divorce, or the death of a spouse or child can trigger substance abuse and mental health disorders in women.

Common Impediments for Women in Addiction Recovery

Women’s substance abuse treatment often involves barriers that do not exist for men.

NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) reports that women are less likely than men to engage with treatment for substance use disorder.

These are some of the most common difficulties faced by women in recovery:

  1. Women face different barriers when engaging with treatment
  2. Gender inequalities still exist in 2023
  3. Not all types of addiction treatment are tailored to the needs of women
  4. Some women may have undiagnosed mental health disorders
  5. Hormonal changes can complicate addiction recovery for women
  6. Some women may have body concerns that require addressing during addiction treatment

1) Women face different barriers when engaging with treatment

For women in general and mothers in particular, the stigma attached to addiction can be a powerful disincentive to engaging with treatment.

Denial, shame, and fear can combine to prevent some women from honestly examining their drug or alcohol consumption, and can also discourage them from connecting with the professional care they need.

Women also face the following barriers when looking to go to rehab:

  • Childcare responsibilities
  • Lower incomes
  • Substance abuse of family members
  • Partner abusing substances
  • Fear of losing custody of their children
  • Feeling unworthy of help or ashamed of asking for help
  • Limited access to resources

2) Gender inequalities still exist in 2023

One of the primary goals of International Women’s Day celebrated in March each year is to raise awareness of gender equality.

Women are more likely than men to encounter economic barriers to substance abuse treatment. Additionally, women face disproportionate stigma when battling addiction, as outlined above.

3) Not all types of addiction treatment are tailored to the needs of women

Women respond more favorably to supportive substance abuse treatment than rehabs offering a harsh or more punitive approach to recovery.

Addiction specialists accustomed to working with women will refrain from judgment or fault-finding, encouraging connection with others and accountability to promote recovery from addiction.

A female-friendly rehab will focus on self-reliance rather than reliance on others, actions instead of feelings, empowerment in favor of compliance, and self-care versus caring for others.

4) Some women may have undiagnosed mental health disorders

It is estimated that half of those with substance use disorders also suffer from mental health disorders, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Bipolar disorder

When mental health disorders are undiagnosed, this often leads women to self-medicate the symptoms with addictive substances. This strategy produces nothing but fleeting relief, ultimately worsening symptoms, and introducing the added complication of a substance use disorder. When addictions and mental health conditions co-occur in women, coordinated dual diagnosis treatment produces the most favorable treatment outcomes.

5) Hormonal changes can complicate addiction recovery for women

Toxins that accumulate during substance abuse and poor nutrition can be disruptive to female hormones. When stress, menstruation, and menopause are added to this mix, it is common for women recovering from addiction to feel depressed, anxious, or exhausted. All of these emotions can trigger substance abuse leading to relapse in recovery.

6) Some women may have body concerns that require addressing during addiction treatment

Body image is a key component of recovery for many women for many different reasons. Some women abuse drugs to lose weight, while others may suffer from an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. Others may suffer from body dysmorphic disorder.

Effective ongoing treatment will address these common issues faced by many women in recovery.

Addiction Treatment for Women

Rehab for women is based on the idea that men and women have different addiction treatment needs due to the cultural and biological differences between them, and the way this influences substance abuse among men and women.

Gender-specific rehab, whether drug rehab for women or alcohol rehab for women, is highly sensitive to sex-specific issues, providing you with a completely personalized solution to addiction recovery.

Gender is a relevant factor in the analysis and treatment of substance abuse. Where women are more likely to abuse prescription medications, men are more prone to abusing alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine.

The main differences between the sexes when it comes to substance abuse include:

  • Substance of abuse: Women are more likely to abuse prescription medications. Men are more likely to abuse alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine.
  • Reasons for substance abuse: Many women use substances as a means of self-medicating traumatic experiences, or the problems caused by abusive relationships. Men, by contrast, often abuse substances for their perceived benefits – heightened libido or increased self-confidence, for example.
  • Rates of substance dependence: While SAMHSA data show that fewer women than men use nearly all types of illicit drugs, research shows that women are just as likely to develop a substance use disorder.
  • Brain’s response to substance abuse: Women metabolize some drugs more slowly than men. Although women typically start using substances at lower doses than men, substance use more rapidly develops into a substance use disorder, and females are at heightened risk of relapse.

Rehab for women accounts for the unique needs and perspectives of females seeking addiction treatment, prioritizing vulnerability to addiction and relapse with as few distractions as possible.

When you engage with gender-specific treatment, you will get specialized treatment accounting for the differences between males and females addicted to alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs.

While mixed sex addiction treatment programs can be effective, they often fail to address issues unique to women. With a women’s rehab program, you can spend more time on issues pertinent to you.

When you commit to discontinuing substance use and engaging with a treatment program, the fewer distractions you encounter during the process the better. Detox and the early phase of recovery involve turbulent emotions and significant life changes. A single-sex treatment center allows you to focus on your self-improvement without extra complications.

During group therapy sessions – a core component of addiction treatment – a single-sex setting allows everyone to participate more freely, sharing life experiences with those who are more likely to have first-hand experience of those issues.

With women facing more risk of relapse during recovery, the powerful peer support available in a women’s rehab center can help you to stay strong in the face of stress or temptation.

The primary benefits of rehab for women are as follows:

  • Safe and secure setting.
  • Nurturing environment.
  • Comfort and community during detox and recovery.
  • Relatability with others in recovery.
  • Ability to be vulnerable without fear of judgment.
  • Access to female therapists.
  • Opportunity to address co-existing conditions.
  • Sharp focus on female-specific issues.
  • Multidisciplinary approach to treatment.
  • Readymade sober support network.

If you choose to kickstart your recovery at a women’s rehab, you’ll first need to choose from the following levels of treatment intensity:

  • OP: A traditional outpatient program offers a few hours of weekly therapy sessions in a single-sex environment, ideal for females with mild addictions and stable home environments.
  • IOP: An intensive outpatient program offers more support and structure for women seeking addiction treatment with up to 15 hours of weekly therapy sessions in an outpatient setting.
  • PHP: Partial hospitalization programs are the most intensive form of outpatient treatment, providing up to 35 hours of therapy sessions each week in a female-only environment.
  • Virtual rehab: For women unable or unwilling to access an addiction treatment center, virtual rehab provides therapy sessions via online video conferencing platforms, broadening access to treatment.
  • Inpatient rehab: The most intensive form of treatment, inpatient rehab is also known as residential rehab. For women with severe addictions, dual diagnosis (addiction with co-occurring mental health disorder), or unstable home environments, inpatient treatment provides a safe and secure background for detox and recovery.

Regardless of the treatment intensity that best fits your needs, you will have access to the same array of evidence-based interventions at women’s rehab.

Alcoholism and opioid addiction respond positively to MAT (medication-assisted treatment) with FDA-approved medications. These medications reduce the intensity of cravings and withdrawal symptoms, during detox and throughout ongoing treatment. MAT is most effective if delivered alongside psychotherapy.

You can also expect access to the following therapies in women’s rehab:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Psychotherapy – talk therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy)
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Trauma-informed care

To supplement evidence-based treatment, most women’s rehabs will provide access to a variety of holistic therapies, including:

  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Massage therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Nutrition
  • Fitness
  • Outdoor activities

You may find that many of these activities are beneficial during your ongoing recovery after rehab.

For women who have problems in their closest relationships, family therapy provides a safe setting with a neutral third-party to facilitate communication and conflict management.

By choosing a women’s rehab center, you can commit to your recovery in the most appropriate environment and address the physical and psychological component of addiction.

Women’s Substance Abuse Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

Here at Renaissance Recovery, we specialize in the intensive outpatient treatment of addictions. This provides you with the most flexible and affordable pathway to recovery, while still providing you with sufficient support and structure to initiate your sustained recovery from addiction.

Our PHP (partial hospitalization program) is the most intensive form of outpatient therapy. Therapy sessions are scheduled from 8.30am to 4.30pm on five days of the week. If you require less time commitment, our IOP (intensive outpatient program) involves sessions scheduled on five days of the week from 8.30am to 11.50am.

We are also happy to connect you with licensed medical detox centers throughout Southern California, enabling you to combat the physical component of addiction before transitioning into a PHP or an IOP at Renaissance in Orange County.

All Renaissance Recovery treatment programs allow you to participate in gender-specific group sessions. Additionally, you can access these interventions:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)
  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapies

Once you complete your women’s rehab program at Renaissance, you can either step down to a less intensive level of care or move directly back into sober living. Either way, your treatment team will equip you with the following:

  • Relapse prevention and management strategies
  • Aftercare plan
  • Access to the Renaissance Recovery Center alumni program

When you’re ready to join women just like you ready to move beyond addiction to alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs, we can help you from detox to discharge and beyond. Call 866.330.9449 for immediate assistance.

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Pat C

“I owe my life and my happiness to these people. October 8th, 2019 marked two years of sobriety for me, and prior to finding Renaissance I hadn’t had 24 hours sober in nearly 20 years.”

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Paige R

“They truly cared for me and the other people that I served with! From this group, I have made 8 new brothers and friends for life! We have continued on, after the program, to take care of each other”

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Courtney S

“Great staff who took the time to get to know me. They have a lot of experience in this field and have first hand experience with what I was going through. IOP is outstanding and really built up a ton of great relationships and found this program to be a ‘breath of fresh air’.”

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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