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women and addiction
March 8, 2021

How Women Experience Addiction

While the disease of addiction doesn’t discriminate and can impact people from all races, backgrounds and gender identities, there are significant differences in how women experience addiction. For decades, most medical research was male-centered, and men’s needs and struggles with substance use disorders were no exception. This unconscious cultural bias is emblematic of some of the unique challenges facing women who misuse drugs or alcohol.

In observation of Women’s History Month in March, what are some societal and biological differences that contribute to women’s experiences with addiction?

Exploring the Gender Gap in Addiction Treatment

Studies suggest that women who need professional help for their disease are less likely to seek treatment than men. What variables contribute to this?

  • When the burdens of child care and housekeeping fall primarily on women’s shoulders, they could be unable to step away from these responsibilities to enter a treatment facility.
  • Society tends to severely stigmatize women who admit to having a substance abuse problem. They may be subject to bias and discrimination, especially among their work colleagues.
  • Due to the gender pay gap, many women earn less than men, which could make the cost of inpatient treatment seem out of reach. Student loan debts and a lack of health insurance coverage might also be financial barriers for women.
  • Complex emotions such as shame and guilt can compel women to downplay the severity of their problems or deny their need for help.
  • Mental health issues like anxiety, trauma and eating disorders may compound women’s issues and make them feel wary about seeking inpatient treatment.

Women Can Develop Substance Abuse Issues More Quickly

Women who live with health conditions such as chronic pain or anxiety disorders often start drinking and using drugs to self-medicate, then soon find themselves struggling with cravings and withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit. Overall, women who misuse drugs and alcohol progress from tolerance to dependence to full-scale addiction more swiftly than men – a phenomenon called “telescoping.”

Differences between women’s and men’s bodies can cause women to experience more severe health complications from drinking and drug abuse. For example, because women have more body fat than men and process alcohol more slowly, one alcoholic beverage for a woman can have twice the physical impact as the same drink for a man. When women drink or use drugs, the substances remain in their bodies for longer periods, where they can cause lasting damage to tissues and organs like the brain, liver and heart. Women with alcohol use disorders are more susceptible to developing some other chronic diseases, including breast cancer. Women are also more vulnerable to substance overdoses than men.

Some general well-being and social risks associated with alcohol also affect women disproportionately. For instance, women are more likely to be victims of alcohol-related crimes, including sexual assault and domestic violence. Because intoxicated people have lower inhibitions, women who engage in unprotected sex while under the influence could end up with an unexpected pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease.

Treating Women’s Needs With Respect and Empathy

Though anyone who has struggled with a long-term substance abuse problem can benefit from a compassionate, judgment-free treatment environment, women who crave connection and love will find it at Beach House. Our approach combines clinically excellent, evidence-based treatment modalities with a culture that fosters a sense of belonging. At our secluded, resort-like Florida campus, our clients can focus fully on their long-term recovery while enjoying amenities like massages, yoga, beautiful beachfront scenery and nutritionist-prepared meals.

If you’re ready to learn more about the Beach House difference – including our full continuum of care and our extensive COVID-19 health and safety protocols – please reach out to us today.

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