The Needs of Women With Drug and Alcohol Addiction

The Needs of Women With Drug and Alcohol Addiction

In this post, we discuss gender differences when it comes to professional addiction treatment. Whilst gender isn’t the only factor that must come into play when customising addiction treatment, it clearly is one of the more obvious factors that treatment practitioners must consider. Gender differences is key, particularly when designing a treatment plan. This is because some treatments may not work as effectively for women than for men, and vice versa.

For instance, when designing a treatment plan for women, experts must have regard to women’s unique needs and likely experiences. Regard must be had for how women live their lives, with particular reference to child rearing, social and economic factors and family life. These specific circumstances and needs of women must be addressed in how treatment will proceed.

Below we list some of the female-specific factors you must consider when designing an addiction-treatment programme for women:

  • Women’s individual health concerns
  • Identifying and addressing the role of personal relationships as they pertain to female addiction and recovery
  • Taking into account the socioeconomic issues that impact women’s lives
  • Addressing caregiver needs of women
  • Addressing society’s attitudes towards female suffering with addiction
  • Assessing traumatic experiences women are likely to have experienced
  • Offering a gender-specific treatment environment

Reasons for female addiction

Whilst men and women may become addicted to drugs and alcohol for similar reasons, it’s also true that some of these reasons have a disproportionate impact on women. Stress and emotional problems relating to family life are thought to particularly impact women’s spiral into addiction. For instance, women are more likely than men to be introduced to drugs through a boyfriend, spouse or other family members. Parental alcohol use is also thought to disproportionate increase the odds of female addiction.

Females may also expected to act as a caregiver to younger siblings when compared to men. These stresses in early life are thought to contribute to female addiction later on in life.

Relationships are thought to be a major cause of female addiction. This ranges from the nature and status of a women’s relationship to her partner, and the influence caused by her partner’s decision to engage with substance misuse. Women are far more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol by virtue of the fact that their spouse is involved in such activities. This is thought to particular be the case for divorced, separated and never-married women. This means marriage often acts as a preventive force when it comes to the development of female addiction.

Other factors thought to contribute towards female addiction include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Sociocultural issues such as discrimination

Physiological difference of substance misuse for women

Studies show women develop an addiction to drugs and alcohol far quicker than do men. This is particularly the case when women suffer from co-occurring mental health issues, or when women experience developmental issues or when women re part of a lower socioeconomic group.

When it comes to the physical impact caused by drug and alcohol addiction, women are more likely to suffer from severe complications such as heart disease, liver disease and hypertension. This is particularly true for alcohol addiction, since women’s bodies are not as efficient as men’s when it comes to the metabalisation of alcohol. Women are also more susceptible to blood borne diseases that are related to drug use such as HIV/AIDs and hepatitis. The menstrual cycle is also affected by the consumption of certain drugs.

Pregnant women are particularly affected by alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption causes a number of complications to the unborn foetus such foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), low birth rate and premature separation of the placenta.

Assessing women who experience substance misuse

It is important for treatment providers to tailed their assessment specifically for female clients. This is key when making a diagnosis, and when determining the nature and extent of the client’s addiction, and how it may impact her life. It’s also important to determine the existence of co-occurring conditions such as mental disorders, eating disorders and anxiety disorders which disproportionately affect females’ experiencing substance misuse.

It’s also important for treatment providers to address the likely challenges that are common amongst women seeking out addiction treatment. Such challenges include the stigma attached to female substance misuse, and the fear of losing the custody of children. This stigma gives rise to many psychological barriers to receiving treatment. These barriers include shame, guilt and fear. Some treatment providers have chosen to establish pre-treatment intervention groups and outreach services to help women overcome these treatment barriers.

It’s also vital to make adjustments for women who may be pregnant or who have childcare responsibilities. If treatment is offered on an outpatient basis, it may be helpful to offer access to temporary childcare services, or connect with other agencies or private companies who may offer this service for free or for an affordable price.

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