What, if any, are the differences between male and female substance abusers? The answer requires a review of research to determine which treatment services have been shown to be most effective for women. Although each woman in recovery is unique, women have unique shared experiences and needs, which can directly influence the type of services they require to succeed in the drug recovery process.
In general, a woman is less likely to form an addiction to any given drug of abuse compared to a man. However, as the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) discusses, females abuse drugs for different reasons compared to males. A three-year study of females aged eight to 22 years of age found that depression, low self-esteem and peer pressure make females more vulnerable to drug abuse than males.
Although fewer females than males may initiate into drug abuse, those who do use drugs become dependent on drugs at a faster rate than males.
The rate of female substance abusers is on the rise, which in turn means that women increasingly require substance abuse treatment. Gender-based substance treatment strategies are continually in development to ensure that recovering women are given every opportunity to succeed in recovery.
According to the ONDCP, rehab programs for women must address the specific risks and consequences that women face when abusing drugs. Traditional drug treatment methodologies have largely developed around the needs of men, as males predominantly accessed treatment services in the past.
Same-Sex vs. Mixed-Sex Treatment
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), limited research on the benefits of same-sex versus mixed-sex treatment centers for women reveals that one is not more effective than the other. A factor more determinative of recovery success for women is the type of services that are offered to address women’s unique needs. However, this point aside, some women will only engage in drug rehab in a same-sex environment. In this way, same-sex rehab may improve access to drug treatment, and that is a significant contribution.
In rehab, women present with different life experiences than men and may therefore benefit from gender-targeted services. In other words, it does not appear that being separated from men is as helpful as women finding the support they need. According to NIAAA, women often have more acute problems than men upon entry to rehab.
- Be of a younger age
- Feel greater hostility toward treatment
- Have a lower income level
- Report more mental health and physical problems
- Have less educational attainment
- Report stress and mental suffering as reasons for alcohol abuse
- Have experienced sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse
- Express shame, guilt and embarrassment about the need for drug rehab
- Have more acute depressive symptoms when depressed
- Have childcare/family-related concerns
Research findings about the needs women can easily be translated into advice for women who are seeking rehab. The key will be to identify rehab programs that offer a suite of services the woman needs. Today, many mixed-sex rehab programs have gender-sensitive services, such as matching clients and counselors based on sex, same-sex group meetings, mixed-sex group meetings led by both a female and male counselor, and gender-specific treatment content. When selecting a rehab, whether a same-sex or mixed-sex rehab, a female client or loved one may inquire about the types of gender-sensitive programs available.
One of the most obvious ways in which the needs of women may differ from men in rehab relates to childcare issues. Many traditional drug treatment programs, whether outpatient or inpatient, are not designed for drug-dependent women with child care needs.
Women who need treatment may decline to enter rehab because they do not have an alternate caregiver, or they are afraid that if they involve child protective care services they will lose custody of their children and/or involve the criminal justice system.
According to ONDCP, a shift must occur both in rehab service offerings and welfare system protocols. In order to increase a mother’s access to drug rehab services, ONDCP recommends that child protective services and the criminal justice system make assurances to women that seeking treatment will not necessarily result in a loss of custody or criminal repercussions. To avoid women feeling torn between seeking rehab services and losing custody or facing legal problems, more family-based treatment programs are required.
As discussed in an Addiction Science and Clinical Practice article, there are residential treatment programs that can accommodate recovering women with children. The availability of such programs may be limited, but they are built on a commitment not to separate mothers from their children. To provide insight into how family-based programs can work, the article focuses on the treatment model used at one of the earliest inpatient centers for recovering women and their children.
- Integrated services to address parent, child and other family member needs
- Therapy for each family member
- Substance abuse treatment
- Family therapy as a group
- Job training and permanent housing assistance
- Parenting education
- Visitation for the parent not in rehab
- Primary medical care for each member
- Educational support for children
The family-based program is built on the premise that substance abuse offers women a negative way to cope with unhealthy family relationships which in turn increases the family’s dysfunction. To reverse this dynamic, multifaceted treatment services aim to help the mother to become drug-free, assist each family member to build self-esteem, and encourage positive relationships between each family member. Unlike traditional drug treatment programs, this model dedicates considerable resources to supporting the children’s psychological recovery and helping them to build healthy life skills.
If a family-based residential program would help you or a loved one to access treatment, the next step is to locate a program. The centers that offer such services can help you to coordinate admission for you and your family.
Paying for services should not be a bar to rehab admission. When a family-based program is located, you can speak with an admissions coordinator about the forms of insurance that are accepted. If you do not have insurance and have a low-income level, you may be eligible for your state’s Medicaid program. As some family-based residential treatment programs are federally funded, there may not be any costs associated with treatment.
To date, research has continuously revealed that there is a greater number of people in need of drug rehab than the number who seek rehab treatment.
Rehab for Pregnant Women
Pregnant substance abusers are no exception, and the need for treatment in this demographic is acute.According to recent research sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in the 15 to 44 year old age group of pregnant women, 11.6 percent used alcohol, six percent used prescription medications (e.g., sedatives, stimulants and pain relievers), and 4.3 percent used illicit street drugs. Despite these abuse numbers, the number of pregnant women who receive drug rehab treatment is alarmingly low.
Per the 2013 Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), from 2000 to 2010, only 4.4 to 4.8 percent of pregnant women in the 15 to 44 year old age group were admitted to drug rehab.
Drug abuse presents numerous risks to the baby, including premature delivery, a lower than average birth weight, neurological complications, congenital problems, an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), developmental delays, a greater likelihood of suffering parental abuse or neglect, and a stronger propensity to abuse drugs in their lifetime.
But research shows that receiving drug treatment while pregnant can significantly improve birth outcomes and the child’s growth and development overall. For the health of the mother and the child, rehab is always advisable.
At present, there does not appear to be an adequate number of rehab programs available to treat pregnant women. This may owe to the fact that only a small percentage of pregnant women have sought treatment, and there may be insufficient public efforts to get these women into treatment. For example, North Carolina only has 21 rehab programs that accommodate pregnant substance abusers. The availability of treatment for pregnant women depends largely on the community. Women often learn about drug treatment centers through word of mouth. But even when a suitable rehab is located, there may be a wait.
Research-Based Service Options
However, in any state, there will be some form of rehab service available to pregnant woman. For instance, treatment may begin in the detoxification unit of a local hospital. After detox, pregnant women may enter either an inpatient or outpatient treatment center, depending on the severity of the addiction. Even if a pregnancy-specific program is not available locally, or the waiting list is prohibitively long, a pregnant substance abuser may engage in non-specialized rehab services.
As long as the proper prenatal care is provided by a physician working in conjunction with the rehab center, the attending team of rehab professionals should be able to make any necessary adjustments to treatment protocols in order to help the mother-to-be. Paying for treatment is not likely to be a barrier to access because there is governmental funding in this area, and Medicaid and other public insurance may be available for low-income individuals.
Research suggests that pregnant substance abusers tend to have acute problems, such as mental health disorders, a history of trauma, poverty, a lack of adequate or stable housing, a history of domestic violence/relationship abuse, and legal problems.
A rehab program dedicated to the treatment of pregnant women will likely have experience addressing these issues. However, if such a service is not available then in addition to traditional rehab treatment, the pregnant substance abuser is best advised to work with a social worker or counselor to coordinate support services in areas of need, such as housing. If ancillary services are not provided, the stress the recovering woman faces may trigger a relapse either before or after the birth of the child.
Find Real Help Today
We can help to connect you or a loved to a number of women-only rehab centers or mixed-sex rehabs that offer gender-sensitive services. Our goal is not only to help you find a rehab but to also ensure you feel comfortable and informed about the process when you enter one. Call 760-548-4032 now.
Women are strong. They meet and overcome challenges no one expects them to. This does not mean they are invincible. Just like anyone, women can and do face substance abuse and addiction problems. They often struggle invisibly or in silence, but they do struggle. If you are a woman trapped by addiction, you know the fight for freedom is real. If your daughter, mother, friend or partner misuses drugs or alcohol, you know she has a serious and valid problem. Addiction is as much a fact for women as it is for men. It may even be a larger issue for some women because of their unique biological makeup, socially ascribed gender roles, and barriers to treatment and recovery. False assumptions about addiction should never minimize or hide the challenges women face. It should never limit a woman’s opportunities for fair, appropriate addiction treatment. Women become addicted to drugs and alcohol. With professional care and attention, these same women can find recovery.
Fact: Women Struggle with Drug and Alcohol Addiction
en face problems. In fact a significant portion of the female population does. The Surgeon General explains that in 2015, “Prevalence of an alcohol use disorder was 7.8 percent for men and 4.1 percent for women. The prevalence of an illicit drug use disorder was 3.8 percent for men and 2.0 percent for women.” Women may not be as likely as men to struggle with addiction, but they do still struggle. No woman’s substance use concerns should go unnoticed, ignored or denied.
Fact: A Woman’s Biology Affects Her Addiction Experience
Women are biologically different from men. Their bodies are externally, visibly different. Their internal chemistry is different. These differences affect how they experience substance use and addiction. They matter in regards to appropriate treatment and recovery.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse shares, “Sex hormones can make women more sensitive than men to the effects of some drugs. Women who use drugs may also experience more physical effects on their heart and blood vessels. Brain changes in women who use drugs can be different from those in men.”
Hormones, physical changes, and psychological effects influence if and how addiction develops. They can create unique treatment challenges and put recovery at risk. Professional treatment specializing in women’s care will acknowledge and address these differences. They give women the tools they, specifically, need for long-term wellness.
Fact: Women Are Assigned Different Social Roles Than Men
Although gender roles are increasingly flexible, women are still more likely to assigned caregiving and child-rearing roles. This influences addiction and recovery. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains, “Women are more likely than men to encounter barriers that prevent them from seeking or following through with treatment.” They often have difficulty finding money or transportation for care. They are less likely to know about their options for treatment and feel greater stigma regarding getting it.
Gender roles create barriers to treatment. They also provide motivation for change. For example a woman may be much more eager to pursue and complete treatment if she is motivated to become a better parent and save or regain custody of children.
Gender roles both limit and support a woman’s journey to recovery. Treatment programs should recognize a woman’s unique reservations and motivations regarding recovery. Programs can offer motivational enhancement therapy, parenting skills classes, and more. Every treatment experience should reflect an individual’s personal experience no matter gender.
Fact: Women Face Unique Addiction Consequences
Biology and social roles converge to create unique addiction consequences for women. The Surgeon General explains that substance misuse can, “result in serious, enduring, and costly consequences due to motor vehicle crashes, intimate partner and sexual violence, child abuse and neglect, suicide attempts and fatalities, overdose deaths, various forms of cancer (e.g., breast cancer in women), heart and liver diseases, HIV/AIDS, and problems related to drinking or using drugs during pregnancy, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) or neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).” All of these issues affect women. Some disproportionately impact women’s lives. Others only apply to women. Treatment needs to assess a woman’s physical, mental and emotional health. It needs to understand her addiction experience. Treatment should offer the integrated, comprehensive care a woman needs to find long-lasting physical health, emotional and social stability, and freedom from drugs or alcohol.
 https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/surgeon-generals-report.pdf. Facing Addiction: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Surgeongeneral.gov. Nov 2016. Web. 18 Mar 2017.
 https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/substance-use-in-women. “Substance Use in Women.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Sep 2015. Web. 18 Mar 2017.