March is Women’s History Month when women are celebrated for their strength, resilience, and accomplishments. This month also promotes gender equality and reminds us of the improvements, and discoveries, related to women’s health. Today, there is more research available to help us better understand medical conditions and the discrepancies between men and women. This is particularly true when it comes to addiction and substance use disorders, as there are biological and cultural differences between men and women that can impact recovery.
Research has revealed that substance use disorder in women progresses at a much faster rate than in men. This is a result of women metabolizing alcohol and drugs differently. Women have fewer stomach enzymes and more fatty tissue than men, which slows down the processing of alcohol and other drugs. Due to this, women are exposed to higher concentrations of the substance compared to men. In turn, women are more susceptible to craving and relapse. It’s important for women to understand this, as they begin their path to recovery.
Additionally, women in recovery may face unique challenges and barriers, due to gender-specific sensitivities. These may include stigma, trauma, and co-occurring disorders.
Let’s take a closer look at how these factors relate to addiction and recovery in women.
There is much shame, guilt, and blame surrounding addiction that can be especially hard for women. In the past, society looked down upon those suffering from addiction. People considered substance use disorder as selfish and intentionally causing harm to families. This stigma attached to addiction made it particularly difficult for women to admit that they were suffering and prevented them from seeking help. In recent years, discussion surrounding substance use disorders has become less taboo; however, it can still be difficult for those suffering to admit that they have a problem.
Since mothers entering treatment are more likely to have primary responsibility for their children, there can be many barriers to seeking and attending treatment. There may also be the fear of losing custody of children if mothers admit that they are suffering from addiction.
Research has found that compared to men, a higher percentage of women suffering from substance use disorder have been victims of trauma (physical, sexual, or verbal abuse). In addition, research revealed that women are two times more likely than men to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of a traumatic event. This is significant, as women who suffer from PTSD are 1.4 times more likely to develop an addiction compared to women without.
In comparison to men, women are more prone to developing depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. This being said, research has found that there is a strong correlation between substance use disorders and other mental health conditions. Co-occurring disorders can worsen the level of severity of each, making an integrated treatment plan critical. Women need to be especially aware of this so that they receive the proper treatment.
It’s clear that there are many factors that can have a significant influence on addiction and recovery in women. According to research, it’s important for women to address these challenges, in order to achieve and maintain long-term recovery. This will also help to increase happiness and overall well-being.