Futures Recovery Healthcare

Women in Recovery: Understanding the Unique Challenges



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Women who have substance use disorders (SUD) face different obstacles than men in both active addiction and recovery from addiction. Understanding the factors contributing to addiction in women helps those in need of treatment to find the best addiction treatment centers and can also improve the chances of long-lasting recovery. 

Research shows that women face their own set of issues when it comes to substance use issues and recovery. These factors, which influence not only substance use and abuse but also recovery and relapse, are often different from those of their male counterparts.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 19.5 million women 18 years of age and older have used illicit drugs in the past year. What’s more 8.4 million females in the same age group have misused a prescription opioid in the last year. In fact, some studies are now indicating that women have a higher rate of nonmedical prescription drug use than men. 

The statistics related to substance use disorders vary between men and women. Men, historically, have had higher rates when it comes to both SUDs and alcohol use disorders (AUDs) than women. However, this gap has begun to significantly decrease throughout the last decade or so. In the early 1980s surveys revealed a 5:1 ratio of men to women for AUDs. Since then that ratio has changed to 3:1 according to surveys in the early 2000s. 

If you or someone you love has an AUD or SUD, there is help. Every day thousands of people take the first step on the road to recovery by reaching out for help. 

Women, Addiction, and Science 

Researchers and women alike report issues related to using drugs or alcohol that are different from males. Scientists who study gender issues in addiction have found that women’s drug use can be related to the following factors:

  • Hormones
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Fertility
  • Pregnancy 
  • Breastfeeding
  • Menopause

While women themselves report a myriad of reasons for using a substance which, in general, are quite different than those for males. These reasons include:

  • Weight issues
  • Emotional issues like fighting in relationships
  • Self-medicating for a co-occurring mental health disorder
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Pain management

Some of these issues are reasons why men may use alcohol or another substance too, however, research now reveals that these concerns are more commonly cited by women as reasons they use alcohol or a drug. 

Another difference when it comes to substance use and abuse between men and women is what is called telescoping. This term is used to describe the time between the initial use of a substance and the time when the individual has become dependent and the onset of treatment. For women, research has found that this time period is significantly shorter than for men. In addition, when it comes to women in recovery, many times they have been using less of a substance than their male counterparts when they develop dependence and enter treatment. 

Specifically, research now indicates that women experience an accelerated progression when it comes to the use of opioids, marijuana, and alcohol. And when these women enter treatment the extent of their medical, behavioral, social, and psychological issues is more severe. This is all despite the fact that in most cases they have used less of the particular substance and for a shorter amount of time. 

If you are a woman who is experiencing this—or think you may have a problem—the sooner you reach out for help, the better. As studies now reveal, women progress faster in the disease of addiction in most cases. Another issue for women in recovery or active addiction is that certain hormones in a woman’s body can impact the behavioral impact of the substance in their body. 

All of these factors illustrate the importance that women seek treatment at addiction treatment centers with an understanding of these key differences as well as programs to address these obstacles. Futures Recovery Healthcare has a unique understanding of the many differences when it comes to men and women with addiction issues. Utilizing evidence-based treatment programs that provide multiple pathways to recovery, Futures helps women recover from substance abuse and alcohol abuse every day. 

Futures has many women in some of the main positions at the facility helping to guide programming and ensure the unique needs of women are met. From the medical director, Dr. Gloria Dunkin to the clinical director, Angela Bustamante, women at Futures hold key roles and work to see that the program offerings meet the needs of the diverse individuals who enter the doors of Futures for addiction treatment. 

Needs such as co-occurring mental health issues, trauma experiences, and family situations are all important parts of the comprehensive treatment offered for women at Futures. The value of treating the whole person is paramount as addiction is more than physical. 

Women, Substance Use Disorders, and Co-occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders are defined as an individual having both a substance use disorder and a mental health issue. The substance use disorder can be to illicit drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol. Mental health issues can include any of the mental health disorders but more commonly found in dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders are depression, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders.

Mood and anxiety disorders in women, both with and without a co-occurring SUD are higher than in men. Because of this high rate of co-occurrence, a comprehensive evaluation at an addiction treatment center is vital. Often, long term and regular use of alcohol or drugs can increase a person’s susceptibility for mental health disorders or symptoms of the substance abuse issue that can manifest as a mental health problem. This is why seeking treatment at a substance abuse treatment facility with expertise in co-occurring disorders evaluation and treatment is crucial. Futures offers this experience and success in treating the whole person, not just the behaviors. 

Another issue that seems to plague more women than men is eating disorders. It is reported that around 90% of all cases of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are found in women. It has been found that up to 40% of women with eating disorders also have substance use disorders. 

Finding treatment for a substance use disorder and an eating disorder can sometimes be challenging. However, it is essential that both of these be considered in treatment planning in order to support the best chances of long-lasting recovery from both disorders. Futures offers specialized treatment programs for individuals who may need this including those with secondary eating disorders and are trained to identify when someone needs to be referred to a primary eating disorder program and facilitate that transfer. Their dedicated treatment regimens focus attention on conditions specific to each individual improving the chances for positive long-term outcomes. 

Barriers to Treatment for Women in Recovery

If you are a woman with a substance use disorder, with or without any co-occurring disorders, there is help. Although life in active addiction can be filled with pain, isolation, and often hopelessness, it’s important to know that there is hope. Women, very much like you, once felt the same way but now live happy, healthy, lives free from addiction and full of joy. You can too. 

When it comes to treatment for women, there are often barriers that aren’t there for men. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) women are less likely than men to seek treatment for a SUD. 

Some of the most commonly reported reasons are that they are the primary caregiver and either unable or unwilling to leave their child or children to seek treatment. Another reason is the stigmas associated with being a woman, particularly a mother, and having an alcohol or substance use issue. In addition, women continue to face pay inequality often resulting in a financial inability to get the treatment they so desperately need. 

Despite these barriers, women each day take the first step in recovery and seek help. Often the first step—asking for help—can be the hardest. Yet, many find that once this step is taken the door is open to a life of joy, laughter, health, and recovery. If you have a substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder you too can recover and take back your life.  Futures is here to help and offers programs to meet your specific needs in recovery. Contact us confidentially online or call us at 565-475-1804. You don’t have to go it alone, Futures can help. 



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