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October 2, 2018

What Are the Rates of Addiction and Recovery in Women?

older woman looking out windowWomen’s mental health has become a source of growing concern in this country, as women’s rates of alcoholism and other drug addictions, especially heroin and opiates, continue to rise at an alarming speed. This is one side of a story that must be told. But another more hopeful side of the same story also needs telling— about the recovery success rates among women who go on to get treated for substance abuse….

Rates of Binge Drinking and Alcoholism Are Up Among Women

“Drinking is killing twice as many middle-aged white women as it did 18 years ago,” a 2016 article in The Washington Post grimly declared. The article went on to illustrate in painstaking detail how women are “drinking themselves to death,” pointing to data like the following:

  • A rising number of emergency room visits for alcohol intoxication among women between the ages of 18 and 64
  • An upwardly trending alcohol-related death rate for women ages 35 to 54
  • A binge drinking rate that has increased dramatically among women since 1997

Opiate Overdose Deaths Among Women at Record High

Alcohol is not the only culprit implicated in a growing spate of addiction and co-occurring mental illnesses among America’s adult female population. Other drugs, especially opiates, also help to explain how the suicide rate in women has reportedly risen by 50 percent. Consider, for example, these 2017 findings by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, regarding the years 1999-2015:

  • The rate at which women died from prescription opiate overdoses rose by nearly 500 percent (compared to a roughly 200 percent increase among men).
  • Heroin deaths among women increased at more than twice the rate than among men.
  • Deaths from synthetic opiate overdose increased 850 percent in women.

How Treatment Can Help Women with Substance Use Disorders

Such statistics would be purely gloom and doom for women, were it not for research elsewhere that suggests women respond exceedingly well to addiction treatment— or at least perform better than their male counterparts with respect to key benchmarks for success in treatment and early recovery:

  • Women in substance abuse treatment are less likely to relapse than men in substance abuse treatment, according to a report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (The report also found that when women do relapse, it is usually for reasons that differ from men’s, such as a romantic attachment.)
  • At the seven-month mark following rehab, women who completed addiction treatment were nine times more likely to be abstinent than women who did not complete treatment— whereas men who completed treatment were only three times more likely to be abstinent than men who did not complete treatment, a 2004 study in Journal of Addictive Diseases (For women, mitigating factors that adversely impacted their abstinence rates were the presence of a severe psychiatric illness and/or the perception that their life was out of control.)
  • And across the longer-term arc of recovery, women who complete treatment for addiction also tend to do better than men who have completed treatment— this despite often facing more barriers to substance abuse treatment in the first place. For example, women who have been in alcohol treatment have better long-term recovery outcomes than men who have been in alcohol treatment, a 2005 study in the journal Addiction

Treatment Options for Women with a Drug or Alcohol Problem

On the basis of these findings, any woman with a drug or alcohol problem has every reason to give treatment a chance. Here are some treatment options to consider, based on research suggesting they can improve recovery outcomes for women:

  • Rehab programs that offer mindfulness-based therapy – Mindfulness-based exercises are now a feature of many rehab programs, having been shown to increase self-awareness and resilience to cravings and other drug or alcohol triggers. In a study earlier this year, a version of mindfulness-based therapy known as “Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy” improved recovery outcomes for women with substance use disorders.
  • Gender-specific treatment programs – The jury is still out as to whether these programs lead to better recovery outcomes than those associated with more traditional rehab programs. However, research cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that women who receive gender-specific substance abuse treatment are more likely to be employed 12 months after treatment admission than women in traditional programs. (The same study went on to note that women who finished rehab also increased their odds of gainful employment afterwards.)

The current-day addiction epidemic may be alarming with respect to its staggering impact on women in this country. But it also doesn’t have to be an irreversible death sentence. Thanks to treatment, many women have gone on to recover from alcohol, opiates and other drugs. There is no reason why the next story of recovery couldn’t be yours.

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