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Women, Addiction, and Stigma

Dependency: Examining Key Differences

beautiful Black woman looking into camera - women and addictionBoth men and women are equally as likely to develop a substance use disorder. However, women face more social judgement regarding this issue. To better understand this inequality, let’s examine the four key differences between the two sexes when it comes to drug dependency:

  1. Women use and experiment less with illicit drugs than men
  2. Women have lower rates of dependence on alcohol and drugs than men
  3. Women may struggle more with relapse and cravings, making recovery potentially more challenging for them
  4. Women report much higher instances of stigma and shame surrounding their addiction and comprise a much smaller number of people within recovery

Additionally, women face higher rates of depression and anxiety, which facilitate addiction. Also, stress affects women more harshly than men, which also makes them more vulnerable when struggling with substances in stressful environments.

Why Do Women Face More Stigma?

With higher rates of vulnerability but lower rates of substance use, why do women experience more stigma and social backlash than men, especially when seeking sobriety? To answer this question, we can refer to the role typically assigned to women in social contexts.

Social Roles

As antiquated or inaccurate as it may be in 2020, many people (including many women) see the primary role of women as mothers and principal caretakers of children. Therefore, when women are seen as being potentially unfit for taking care of children, they receive harsher judgment than men would in the same situation.

For many mothers and women who care for kids, an inability to properly attend to the young produces a thick emotional layer of guilt, shame, and failure. Additionally, pregnant women who struggle with addiction frequently feel judged to such a degree that the idea of seeking help appears worse than the addiction itself. At times, this judgment may completely prevent women from seeking and receiving proper care.

Despite the presence and endurance of this social shame, women’s health and recovery deserve adequate research, consideration, and sensitivity. When a woman struggles with addiction, she struggles with a multifaceted, complex dependency. Women in treatment usually find that four factors greatly influence the existence, severity, and complexity of their addiction:

  • Their level of mental health
  • Any physical, emotional or mental trauma experienced currently or earlier in life
  • Their social, economic, and cultural position
  • The presence of domestic violence or the absence of spousal support

For many women, all four of these factors play an active role in dependency and recovery. While the same is true for men, today we usually see higher rates of men in care than women, as well as higher rates of men living in sobriety.

Additional Reasons

Some studies show that women less frequently seek help but for reasons that do not directly correlate to the role of mother and caretaker. Normally, these additional reasons are external barriers that deal with finance and accessibility such as:

  • Familial duties and responsibilities
  • Lack of funds
  • Lack of transportation to recovery centers

Further, even if they overcome these obstacles and enter treatment, many women find that treatment options, research, and recovery methods are geared toward men. In many cases, even if a mother secures childcare for her kids while she is in recovery, the treatment and medication she receives has not been adequately tested or researched for women.

Finding and Receiving Help

Addiction looks and feels different for women, but this can often be overlooked in treatment. For example, women reach dependency on drugs more quickly than men, especially in instances involving drinking, opioids, and cannabis. Overall, women become more heavily dependent in a shorter amount of time than men. This means that upon finally entering treatment, women usually carry more medical, psychological, and mental baggage than their male counterparts. For this reason, they may appear more troubled and therefore may receive less respect and sympathy.

We must acknowledge the challenges all women face in their journey to sobriety. Although fewer women than men enter treatment, substance use disorder is prevalent for women. The misconceptions and shame associated with addiction may keep women trapped in a lonely cycle of dependency.

At Great Oaks Recovery Center, we see each of our clients as individuals with specific and unique treatment needs. If you or a loved one are suffering from addiction, we can offer the time, space, and support you need to heal. We will listen to your story with compassion, not judgment. Contact us today.

If you or someone you love is in need of alcohol or drug treatment, contact our Houston drug treatment center anytime, at (713) 769-0102. We are here to help.