When it comes to drug abuse and addiction, women have very different experiences than men. As we’ve detailed in a previous article, women are more quick to jump to high-risk behaviors (like drug abuse) than their male counterparts. Women are also more quick to develop a clinical addiction than men, and more likely to experience negative health effects from their drug abuse. In addition, women have more difficulty quitting drugs than men, and are more susceptible to drug cravings. These gender differences, and many more, pose unique challenges for women trying to live sober.
In addition to the progressive differences listed above, women are often challenged by society and stigma while seeking treatment. This is due to the expectations that the world has set for females (and mothers) today. Females also have unique challenges while living sober. While women in general are less likely to relapse than men, there are certain vulnerabilities that make women more prone to relapse, such as mental health issues and an inability to cope.
The female sober living and drug using experience is one that is increasingly becoming a topic of research and conversation. And this is important in getting our loved ones the help that they need. As a leading women’s drug treatment center, Turnbridge outlines some of the most common challenges that women face while living sober below.
- Negative health effects.
Overall, men and women are equally as likely as one another to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. However, women progress from first-use to addiction much faster than men. They tend to increase their rate of drug abuse (whether that be drinking alcohol, snorting cocaine, or smoking marijuana) more rapidly than their male counterparts, which poses inherent health risks. Women typically enter addiction treatment with much more severe medical, behavioral, psychological, and social problems. This makes recovery and sober living for females even more challenging – because they have more severe obstacles to overcome.
- Family obligations.
The most obvious challenge that women face in recovery revolves around family. Women are often caregivers for their families, and have childcare responsibilities at home. They may not seek treatment because they cannot leave their families or children behind. Similarly, many women will not ask for help because they fear they will lose custody of their children. Even if and when they do get help, they may not seek out a sober living setting to heal, in fear it will keep them from their family even longer. While men can be caregivers, these familial barriers are particularly unique to the female recovery experience.
- Stigma, shame, and fear.
Society has set expectations for women to act a certain way. It has framed women to be nurturers above all else. It has set standards for women to behave and dress their best. It has painted the picture of a perfect female—kind, compassionate, and put together. So, when a woman becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, she is immediately faced with great stigma and judgment – of being a “bad” mother, wife, sister, or person. Due to the shame and embarrassment surrounding female addiction, many women do not ask for help. They fear what others will think of them for going to rehab, so they choose to keep quiet instead. Many women choose to fight this battle alone and silently, rather than face the social stigma and shame in the public eye. It is your job – as a spouse, parent, or friend – to support your loved one through these difficult times and to let her know you will not judge her. Addiction is a disease, not a choice, and it is this outlook that will help reduce the stigma of women in recovery.
- Unsupportive relationships.
Relationships, particularly intimate relationships, play a major role in why women use drugs and why women relapse in recovery. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration cites that women often use drugs for the first time with a person of significance, such as a boyfriend, in a private setting. Many women continue to use drugs afterwards because they feel it binds and upholds the relationship. Women who maintain relationships with partners who actively use drugs are at much higher risk of relapse, due to the lack of a supportive environment.
Relationships can also play a role in a female’s recovery if there is stress involved. About 40 percent of women say that their inability to cope with stress is the main reason they use drugs. Women are also much more likely than men to relapse due to negative emotions and interpersonal problems. They are often very emotional beings that internalize their feelings, and any psychological stressors can be detrimental to their state of health. Stressful triggers in relationships could include separation/divorce, monetary issues, or even lack of engagement, interest, or support from their loved one.
When entering treatment, a women’s only rehab facility is ideal for women who have been in unsupportive or manipulative relationships, and whose relationships may have ignited their drug problems. A female only sober living environment will ensure she feels safe and able to heal, without pressure from the opposite gender.
- Trauma and abuse.
Females battling drug abuse and addiction are highly likely to have a history of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. In fact, about 3 in 4 drug-addicted women have experienced sexual abuse and/or emotional abuse in their lifetime. Between 55 and 99 percent of women in drug treatment report a history of trauma. While trauma can lead men to use drugs and alcohol, it disproportionately affects females in recovery. Many women will carry – and overcome – this burden in their treatment program. Many will avoid seeking treatment because, after their traumatic experiences, they feel unworthy of help. Sometimes, women will not know how to cope with feelings or flashbacks of trauma, and will relapse when they occur. This is why a trauma-informed approach to treatment and sober living for women is essential. Women carrying trauma can heal in a safe, assuring, and trigger-free sober living setting, surrounded by other women in similar shoes.
- Mental health issues.
Just as women in drug treatment are likely to have histories of trauma, they are also likely to be facing mental health issues alongside their addiction. Common co-occurring mental health disorders among women include mood disorders (like depression), anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. And again, while men can experience all of these issues, they are much more common among females today. Research shows that women are 60 percent more likely to have an anxiety disorder than men, and about 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with mild, moderate, or severe mood disorders. Women are twice as likely as men to battle an eating disorder. All of these, left untreated, can cause troublesome symptoms that may drive a woman to use drugs and relapse.
For this reason, it is important to find a women’s only rehab or sober living facility that understands the intricacies of dual disorders. Co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders are frequent among females, and can be life-threatening if they are not addressed. If your loved one is battling addiction – combined with depression, anxiety, low self-worth, or a history of abuse – it is important to seek help from a trained dual diagnosis center for women. This type of treatment will ensure your loved one receives an individualized, informed treatment plan for all of her struggles.
If you have a loved one in need of a safe drug treatment or sober living environment, you may be wondering where to go or what to do next. You may be wondering how to get her the treatment she needs and deserves. We are here for you. To learn about Turnbridge’s female sober living homes and treatment programs, please do not hesitate to reach out. Call 877-581-1793 or explore the women’s program online.