Women are not afforded many of the same opportunities and benefits as men are in life. However, unlike the gender wage pay gap and other adversities women face, addiction is a pretty fair and even disease.
Is there a difference in how women and men respond to drugs and alcohol? Furthermore, are their marked differences in how women in recovery should be treated for a substance use disorder?
The Difference between Men and Women
You know what they say, it’s a man’s world. When it comes to addiction there is no exception. Men definitely take the lead on almost every type of substance addiction out there. But here’s where it gets interesting. Women are catching up in certain categories, namely with alcohol. New studies have shown that the gap between male and female drinking habits is closing.
Prescription drug use in women is also catching up to that of men. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the non-medical use of prescription drugs in men aged 18-25 is around 1.4%. Women are close behind at 1.1%.1
“Alcohol use and alcohol use disorders have historically been viewed as a male phenomenon,” said Associate Professor Tim Slade, lead author of a recent study conducted at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.
Furthermore, men and women tend to face some of the same barriers regarding addiction. However, studies show that men are much more likely than women to seek help for their substance misuse. Concerns such as the cost of treatment, child-care, lack of social support, along with work and home responsibilities are some of what women are up against. In addition, they must also face general stigma of being a female addict. 2
This is not to say that these struggles are particularly unique to women but more often than not, even if a man has the same responsibilities as a woman, he’s less likely to have things like child-care or lack of social support hold him back from treatment.
Women in Recovery: Treatment and Prevention
So, now that we know addiction is a pretty even playing field, what about treatment? Should the treatment approach vary according to gender? What about prevention? Meeting a patient where they are is vital for long-term success in recovery and it is especially important for women in recovery.
It’s also worth noting that women generally tend to seek treatment at mental health or primary care clinics instead of through addiction treatment programs. This makes it imperative that treatment providers outside of the addiction treatment industry be screening their female patients for substance misuse.3
Creating a Custom Recovery Program for Women in Recovery
Many treatment centers are beginning to notice this heightened awareness of women in recovery. In the United States, about 40% of substance abuse treatment facilities now provide female specific programs or groups.4 It’s a great step in the right direction but there is still much work to do.