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Addiction Treatment for Women: How And Why It Is Such A Prevalent Issue

Substance abuse has never been more prevalent. Thanks to the pandemic, as well as other systemic factors, more people than ever are reaching for illicit substances to cope with their issues. A large portion of people reports regular heavy drinking, while the overdose epidemic continues to rise. This is an alarming and unfortunate state of affairs, particularly as it related to substance abuse among women.

While there is no shortage of substance concerns among men, the experience of each gender is unique. Women are highly vulnerable to addiction, and the shifts in cultural norms are encouraging higher rates than ever. Furthermore, barriers to seeking help are layered and challenging for women. Thus, understanding the complexities of substance abuse in women is the first step in being able to help stem and prevent it.

The Prevalence of Substance Abuse Among U.S. Women

In years past, cultural norms prevented many women from the struggles of substance abuse. However, recent years have seen these numbers increase significantly. As of 2017, about 5 million women in the U.S. were reporting heavy alcohol use in the past month. Likewise, 27 million women reported using illegal drugs or misusing prescription drugs in that past year.

While these numbers are concerning, so is the rate of the increase in substance use. Binge drinking is reported to be on the rise in older women. Prescription painkiller overdoses increased over twice as fast for women than men in the period from 1999-2015. Likewise, more than 1 in 15 girls between ages 12 to 20 reported having an alcoholic beverage in the past month. This speaks to a concerning but not surprising problem, as much research is indicating women may be more susceptible to substance abuse for a variety of reasons.

For one, depression is more common in women, which increases the risk for substance use. Mental health struggles are common among women who deal with substance abuse addiction, at a rate of being 2-3x more likely to have multiple mental health diagnoses. Likewise, women experience trauma at a higher prevalence than men, another gateway to addiction issues. Unfortunately, these precursors, coupled with the fact that women can get addicted more easily than men, set them up for a problematic relationship with substances and help explain the increasing prevalence of female addiction issues.

Cultural Norms Encouraging Substance Abuse

While the numbers speak for themselves, the notable increases in addiction treatment for women over the past three decades have been encouraged by changing cultural norms. These include increased societal pressures on women, the glorification of excessive substance use, and barriers to seeking help.

Increased Societal Pressures on Women

More is demanded of women now than at any time in history. While access to opportunity has improved, women have not been afforded the necessary social support to balance these opportunities. However, substances have become a normalized coping mechanism, leading to the rise of the “wine mom” and the encouragement of “rosé all day.” While these are alcohol-specific, many women turn to marijuana or other drugs to manage their anxiety and stress, to celebrate, or as a part of their daily routine. Moreover, culture has billed this as an “empowered” way of dealing with one’s issues. Unfortunately, the struggles of many women are now faced with substances, rather than healthy coping mechanisms.

The Glorification of Excessive Substance Use 

Today, substance use is not looked down upon culturally; in fact, it is uplifted as a central tenet of our culture. Music, movies, and other forms of entertainment have formed a reciprocal relationship with drugs and alcohol, as many glorify and normalize substance use, often in excess. What isn’t shown is the overarching impact of this excess, including crime, healthcare costs, and lost work. This hits women harder, given that they are more likely to get addicted, but also, because of the lack of solutions to address their specific needs. Unfortunately, it appears that it is unlikely that this will occur at any time in the near future, especially addressing the onslaught of substance abuse consistently across media.

Barriers to Seeking Addiction Treatment for Women

As we’ve discussed multiple times, women can get addicted to substances at smaller amounts and lower usage, merely because of their biology. Likewise, they are more susceptible to substance abuse thanks to various systemic factors. With substance use more prevalent than ever, it is incredibly unfortunate that women still face uneven barriers to seeking helpHere are some of the barriers women still face today.

Mental Health Stigma 

While mental health is increasingly growing as a cultural topic for discussion, there is still a stigma around mental health issues, especially as it relates to women. Moreover, substances have the propensity to increase anxiety and depression in women, meaning that their programs will persistently worsen without sufficient treatment. To encourage women to get help, the mental health stigma must continue to be addressed.

Traditional Gender Roles 

Women who are pregnant, have children, or care for a family member are placed in a difficult position when dealing with substance abuse. They run the risk of not being able to fulfill their traditional roles, and therefore, they may opt not to receive treatment. These types of considerations must be present for women seeking help.

Lack of Gender-Specific Care 

In conjunction with the above-mentioned issues, many addiction treatment programs are specifically tailored to the needs of men. However, we know that women have unique needs based on their traditional roles, their co-occurring mental health concerns, and the differing biological impact of substances on women. When women can’t find the specialized help they need, it is a barrier for them to seek treatment and fundamentally heal.

While these issues all contribute to the increase of substance abuse in women, things are slowly starting to change. Many organizations are working to prioritize women’s specific needs in treatment, and better solutions are becoming available all the time.

Help for Women looking for Addiction Treatment

Here At Covenant Hills, we are committed to helping women navigate the challenges of their addiction. Our women’s addiction treatment center is located in beautiful Orange County, CA, where we focus on specialized care for those suffering from substance abuse, as well as any related emotional psychiatric issues. We offer both a faith-based format and a traditional format based upon the needs of each individual. Contact us now for more information as to how Covenant Hills can help you or your loved one.