Helping Women Break Free From Addiction
By: Jerry Woodward
Whatever addiction women have, the treatment options are way different. Addiction can be significantly more challenging for women for a number of reasons, including the treatment side of addiction. Understanding the struggle they face will help you help them towards having a healthy life.
Therapists have been focusing on gender-specific treatment for some time now. In fact, women who go to women’s only treatment relapse less often than women who go to mixed group therapies. The crazy thing is that despite this fact, rehabilitation centers across the nation are slow to adapt to this format.
Anna David talks about her experience after leaving treatment and some of the challenges she faced: “When I went to rehab in 2000, I was dying. Not necessarily physically, though I wasn’t in great shape there, either. But the biggest problem is that I was suicidal and only somewhat willing to believe that my near-constant depression was related to the vats of cocaine I was regularly shoveling up my nose. Still, I was determined to do whatever I possibly could to change…. But suddenly, I was among the living again. I was in groups and meetings with a bounty of straight men and though my counselors and sponsor were telling me that I should avoid dating for the first year of my sobriety, it was advice that I nodded at and then promptly ignored. I’d been holed up in my apartment with only cocaine and cats for company for years and now that I wasn’t isolated anymore, they were asking me to turn off the part of myself I’d been somewhat ruled by since before I ever discovered drugs and alcohol? Uh, try again. How well did the dating go? Suffice it to say that I ended up learning why this yearlong avoidance had been recommended. The best way I can summarize what happened is that my addiction had done something to my “picker” and as a result, the men I was drawn to weren’t the healthiest specimens. But I was one of the lucky ones—even though I dated various men and suffered rejection and remorse and all those things that can accompany less-than-healthy dating, I was able to stay the course. I don’t really know why that was true for me and isn’t always true for others; maybe my disease wasn’t as far advanced as it could have been or the men I got involved with weren’t appealing enough for me to have bottomed out after things went awry. All I know is that I have seen many women leave the program and sobriety because the pain they were experiencing as the result of romantic entanglements left them feeling like they had no other choice.”
The Differences In Damage
One of the most contributing factors to women going into rehab is trauma. Dr. Jerry Brown, an advocate for gender-specific treatment talks about how trauma plays a factor in behavioral health issues in women. “What’s emerged is that treating women for addiction is often about treating trauma,” he says. Because teenagers are starting to experiment with drugs much earlier now (ages 13-14), Dr. Brown says women are “more likely now to get themselves in situations where they’re abused if they are impaired by alcohol and other drugs.”
Of course, the reasons behind destructive behavior is only half the battle. The actual physiological damage substance abuse has on women is different than men (it’s usually worse). Alcohol, for example, works harder in women than men, leading to getting drunk easier and a much worse hangover. Hormones also play a big role in addiction.
Therapists are doing their best to get the word out on what they’ve found. Understanding how women deal with addiction and how it impacts their bodies will help them get better faster.