What Are the Unique Needs of Women When Treating a Substance Use Disorder?
Despite the decline in fixed ideas of “man’s job” and “women’s work,” despite increasing acceptance of gender-atypical and even gender-neutral individuals, most experts agree that, as a rule, there really are innate differences between men and women:
- Women are better at fine-motor-skills tasks, such as handling small objects without breakage. Men are better at gross-motor-skills tasks, such as hitting targets from a distance.
- Women are better at multitasking and also at savoring the moment. Men are better at finding and implementing straightforward solutions.
- Women’s brains store emotionally charged memories more vividly.
- Women find it easier to get emotionally close to (and often emotionally dependent on) others.
- Although women have lower physical strength, they also have greater long-term stamina.
Besides these innate differences, there are common culturally-influenced differences:
- Women are more concerned about their appearance and what others think of them.
- Men are quicker to speak their minds or take charge, without fear of giving offense.
- Women spend a greater percentage of their time on childcare and domestic tasks, and they earn proportionately less income for time spent on paid work.
- Women are more likely to be single parents, whether through primary custody or through the complete absence of a partner.
One more thing: Women are twice as likely to experience clinical depression or PTSD—but men are twice as likely to develop chemical addiction. Nonetheless, over four million women and teenage girls in the U.S. have substance use disorders, which often develop more quickly from “casual” misuse than is typical for men. If you’re a woman with addiction issues, in addition to checking potential detox centers for reputability you should look for one with experience treating female patients.
In some ways, women have better potential than men for getting prompt treatment and getting the most from it:
- Women are less likely to let pride keep them from acknowledging they have a problem and need help to solve it.
- Women have natural affinity for relationship-building, which makes it easier to open up in both individual and group therapy. It also means women are more likely to find peer support groups rewarding and worth staying in for the long term.
- Women are more sensitive to the hurt their drug use causes, and find “for others’ sake” a strong motivator to stop.
However, women also have needs that, if not met, may put them at a disadvantage when seeking treatment:
Since women have lower average income than men, the question of paying for treatment is more worrisome. If budget is a major concern, here are a few ideas:
- See what your health insurance covers. Addiction disorder is a recognized illness, so treatment is at least partly covered under most insurance plans.
- Carefully review your budget, debt and savings, considering whether you really need everything you buy regularly. You may have more funds available than you think.
- Ask treatment centers whether they have sliding-scale policies that adjust costs depending on income, and what else they can do to help you work out a payment plan. If they’re serious about their mission, they’ll do everything possible to provide you with affordable treatment.
- Contact religious centers and other nonprofits, especially those active in women’s services. Many such places provide financial assistance, or referrals to affordable treatment centers.
- Look into “crowdfunding” options.
- Ask friends and family to help out—but tread carefully, especially if your drug use has already generated a habit of “borrowing” and not paying back. If these people will be joining you in therapy (always a good idea), make “recompensing those who helped pay for treatment” an item on the program.
If you still have doubts, remember what you’ll be saving by not buying more drugs, not losing income due to poor job performance, and not paying for property damage, physical-health damage and DUI fines.
RELATIONSHIP AND PARENTING NEEDS
Women tend to be particularly dependent on close relationships, so you may have a double problem if your partner belittles the idea of your seeking treatment. Try bringing in a family member or mutual friend to help explain what everyone has to gain from your long-term sobriety. If that doesn’t work, go for treatment on your own, and build a strong support network around other relationships. (Of course, if your partner sabotages your other relationships, attempts to keep you home against your will or is otherwise controlling and abusive—run, don’t walk, to the nearest “safe house” and get help for your addiction and in getting out of that relationship.)
If you have the flip-side problem of being an unsupported single mother, and are afraid your children will be taken from you if others learn you’re an “addict”—consider that you’re more likely to lose custody eventually, and will cause your children considerable harm in any case, if your addiction continues to grow unchecked. Of course, the kids will need to be provided for during the weeks or months you’re in treatment. If you don’t have relatives or close friends who can take them for that long, contact a social-services program and ask about options for temporary foster care. Or ask the treatment centers you’re interviewing with—they’ve likely seen this problem before.
It’s also possible you’re pregnant. Perhaps getting that news was even the catalyst that convinced you to seek addiction treatment, in sudden realization that continuing to use drugs would put you at increased risk (up to three times greater) of miscarriage or stillbirth, and your baby in danger of low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, neonatal drug-withdrawal symptoms and permanently impaired intellectual capacities. It’s important you be frank about your condition when being admitted to a treatment center: they may need to take extra measures to protect the fetus, especially if dehydration, malnutrition or withdrawal-easing medication are concerns.
For all the attention given to post-traumatic stress disorder in male combat veterans, a higher percentage of female addiction patients suffer from diagnosable PTSD, usually the result of abusive relationships or sexual assault. If you’ve been through a traumatic experience or a string of them, it’s important that your sobriety goals include reclaiming self-respect, eliminating false guilt, and reaffirming that you are more than a “victim”—that you have power to shape your own life and future.
Too many women have been conditioned to be passive and reactive, rather than strong and proactive. You needn’t sacrifice your femininity to discover your strengths. Every woman can be healthy, happy, clearheaded and active in bringing good to the world!
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