Substance Abuse Programs for Women
Drugs can affect men and women in different ways. Rehabilitation programs that specialize in treating female patients can tailor their treatment approaches to account for these differences.
What Does Treatment for Women Entail?
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These programs help women feel safe as they begin to progress in their recovery. This could prove especially important, because some women who abuse drugs may also be survivors of a specific traumatic event, such as physical or sexual abuse.
- Psychotherapy: Drug treatment centers use a variety of psychotherapeutic methods, withcognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) being one of the most common. This form of psychotherapy attempts to help people identify and cope with situations that are likely to result in a relapse.
- Individual and group discussions. Recovery facilities for women often address gender-related issues in individual therapy sessions or group sessions that consist of only female patients.
- Community support: The women in these programs often experience a shared sense of community that allows them to better understand each other’s problems. This environment also allows them to discuss their experiences more openly, which may be more difficult for those in treatment programs with both genders. It can also result in friendships that last after treatment ends.
- Medications: If necessary, some women may be prescribed medications during detoxification to help ease withdrawal symptoms. A therapist or psychiatrist may also recommend medications such as antidepressants to help with symptoms of anxiety disorders or depression.
Diagnosing and Treating Co-Occurring Disorders
Women who are addicted to drugs and alcohol may also struggle with co-occurring mental health and/or behavioral health issues in addition to their addiction. Some common co-occurring disorders women may be suffering from include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Anxiety disorders.
- Mood disorders.
- Post-partum depression.
- Eating disorders.6
Women who are dealing with an addiction as well as a co-morbid mental or behavioral health issue are said to have a dual diagnosis. This condition requires an integrated approach to treatment that addresses both issues at the same time.
If either the substance abuse problem or the mental health problem is not treated, the woman runs the risk of relapse. Women who believe they may have a dual diagnosis would benefit from seeking a treatment center that has experience in treating these conditions.
“In August of 2015, I finally found a 90-day women’s program that also offered trauma therapy. I underwent EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and intensive drug addiction therapy. I am still clean today.”
– Ginnie W.
Read Ginnie’s full story.
In addition to the issues outlined above, an inpatient recovery center for women should address certain relapse risks that are unique to women, which include:
- Severe untreated childhood trauma.
- Low self-esteem in relationships.
- Difficulty ending relationships with other drug users.6
If left untreated, the unresolved issues – such as previous trauma and other stressors – might increase the likelihood of relapse after a woman completes a treatment program and returns to an outside environment, filled with everyday triggers and temptations.
It may be necessary to continue outpatient counseling or group therapy after treatment to continue to work on these issues.
Treatment Needs for Women
An inpatient rehab center for women should be aware of certain needs women have as they recover from addiction. These include:
- Whole-person treatment. Programs that provide addiction treatment for women must devote special attention to specific areas such as body image, life fulfillment, motherhood and eating disorders.
- Rapid onset of addiction. It is also important for these programs to account for an increased likelihood that women may experience addiction more quickly than men and may be more susceptible to some of the consequences of substance abuse.
- Poor family support. In addition to the greater burden of childcare, women tend to have less family support during their treatment than men, which makes the recovery process more difficult. The possibility that a woman may lose custody of her children to state welfare services may cause her to leave a rehabilitation center before her treatment is complete.
- Self-esteem. An addiction treatment center for women should also focus on improving a woman’s self-esteem. This will provide her with the self-confidence she will need to achieve recovery over the long-term.
- Medical issues. Finally, the treatment program should screen for and treat any medical issues women may have. Female addicts are at risk for:
- Infectious diseases from drug use.
- Co-occurring mental and behavioral disorders.
- Problems with reproduction, including effects on the fetus from substance abuse, earlier onset of menopause, spontaneous abortion and infertility. 7
Reasons Women May Avoid Treatment
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Women are less likely than men to enter addiction treatment. Reasons may include the following:
- Sociocultural factors, such as stigma and lack of partner support.
- Socioeconomic factors, such as child care and finances.
- Pregnancy and fear of losing children to child protective services.2
However, women are just as likely as men to stay in treatment once they have entered a program. Factors that can help women remain in treatment include:
- Supportive therapy.
- A positive relationship with a therapist.
- On-site child care and children’s services.
- Integrated and comprehensive treatment services.6
Addiction and Pregnancy
Substance abuse among pregnant women remains a significant problem. A study of 863 pregnant women conducted in 2006 found that 32% used alcohol occasionally, 16% regularly and 11% heavily.1
Treatment for Pregnant Women
In addition to the kind of care outlined above for addicted women in general, effective treatment for addicted pregnant women targets:
- Issues of poor nutrition.
- Health of the fetus.
- Domestic violence.
- Prevention of further victimization of the pregnant addict.3
Inpatient services are particularly helpful for pregnant addicted women in need of obstetric services in addition to substance addiction treatment.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), pregnant women who are addicted to alcohol respond well to motivational interviewing (MI) as part of their treatment. MI is a compassionate, nonjudgmental and gentle style that helps to resolve ambivalence about using alcohol in pregnancy and helping a woman abstain from alcohol. 4
Psychosocial interventions during pregnancy can also address the risks imparted by tobacco, caffeine and over-the-counter medications (OTCs) during pregnancy.
Treatment for Pregnant Opioid Users
Pregnant opioid-addicted women should not try to quit opioids unless they are under medical supervision. Detoxification presents risks to the fetus and can lead to death. Pregnant women should only undergo withdrawal under supervised conditions and with proper opioid replacement medications, such as methadone. 4
Some programs will not treat a pregnant woman because they do not specifically offer obstetric support and are concerned about liability. 4 Check with the program beforehand to see if they offer these services.
Relapse rates are also high among female heroin users, placing fetuses at risk for serious consequences. 4 Seeking treatment can help prevent a relapse and any harm to the unborn child.
Alcohol Risks for Women
Alcohol abuse poses specific risks for women, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The NIAAA reports that approximately 5.3 million U.S. women consume alcohol in an unhealthy or unsafe manner. 5
Potential negative health effects from unhealthy alcohol consumption include the following:
- Alcoholic liver disease.
- Brain disease.
- Heart disease.
Specific Risks for Women
In addition to the risks shared by men, women who drink heavily are also at greater risk for sexual assault and other forms of violence. Alcohol abuse also tends to harm women over a shorter period of time than it does men.
Women are more likely to develop alcoholic hepatitis and die of cirrhosis than men. All alcoholics tend to lose mental function and brain mass over time, but women tend to do so more quickly than men.
High levels of alcohol consumption may also increase the risk of breast cancer in women, especially among those who smoke. Cardiovascular disease is a common result of heavy drinking and is more likely to occur in women.
Find an Addiction Treatment Program for Women
If you or someone you love is looking for an addiction treatment center for women, call 1-888-319-2606 Who Answers? to get help finding the treatment you need. A treatment support specialist can answer questions about insurance and help you find programs in your area.
. Edwards, E.M. and Werler, M.M. (2006). Alcohol consumption and time to recognition of pregnancy. Maternal Child Health J. 10:467-472.
. Brady, K.T., and Back, S.E., (2008). Women and Addiction. In Galanter, M., and Kliber, H.D., Editors. The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing Inc. pp. 555-564.
. Kaltenbach, K., and Jones, H., (2011). Maternal and Neonatal Complications of Alcohol and Other Drugs. In Ruiz, P., and Strain, E., Editors. Lowinson and Ruiz’s Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook. Fifth Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. pp. 648-662.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Substance Abuse Treatment: Addressing the Specific Needs of Women. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) 51: Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009.
. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2015). Alcohol: A Women’s Health Issue.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). TIP 51: Substance Abuse Treatment for Women. SAMHSA News 18(2).
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. (2013). Quick Guide for Administrators Based on TIP 51: Substance Abuse Treatment: Addressing the Specific Needs of Women.
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