Women and men who begin substance addiction treatment have the same goal: to stop their dependence on alcohol or drugs. It isn’t surprising that many find help for their substance use disorder (SUD) in individual and group therapy sessions. Therapy is an effective form of treatment that helps people recognize and understand how substances affect their lives. Women, specifically, can benefit from another type of therapy–women-only sessions.
Women and Substance Use
The reasons women turn to substances often differ from those of men. The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists a few of the underlying motives women use alcohol or drugs. A few are:
- Coping with exhaustion created by work, family, and social obligations
- Trying to lose weight
- An attempt to decrease physical pain
- Self-medicating to cope with mental health issues like depression or anxiety
Women use the same substances as their male counterparts. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, however, men tend to use more types of harmful substances than women. Despite men’s higher alcohol or drug use rate, women are as susceptible as men to a SUD. Additionally, the number of substances used, while usually in smaller doses and a shorter period, put women at an increased risk of becoming addicted.
Gender and Sex
The distinction between sex and gender applies when substance addiction is discussed. Women’s biology (sex) and gender (culturally defined roles) affect SUD. Research shows that women use and respond to substances differently than men. Women’s natural biological functions play a role in how substances affect them.
Scientists dedicated to learning about the effects of substances on women and men discovered that hormones play an integral part in how substances affect women. Women’s menstrual cycles, pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, or fertility issues can alter how their body processes a substance. For example, estrogen and progesterone can increase women’s sensitivity to substances. Some other contrasts between women and men are:
- Women have an increased risk of heart and blood vessel health risks
- The changes in brain cells are different in men and women
- An increase in emergency room visits or death with the use of specific substances
The dangers of alcohol or drugs extend beyond hormonal effects. The toll of substance addiction includes physical and personal hazards. Long-term recovery for women has an increased risk of relapse, cravings, or cross-addiction (shopping, sex, or gambling, for instance).
Mental Health and Substances
Underlying causes like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder can escalate an SUD. Women have a higher rate of depression or anxiety than men. The higher rates indicate that women are more susceptible to depression or anxiety. The rates also indicate that women are more likely to have a mental health disorder evolve. Consequently, women can use alcohol or drugs to help them cope with the feelings that occur with a mental health disorder. The underlying cause, depression, or anxiety, when treated, can eliminate the urge to use a substance. This means that substance addiction and mental health treatment are crucial to addressing a SUD for women.
Why Women-Only Groups Help
Many women face sensitive issues. Past traumatic events like sexual assault and domestic violence are easier to discuss when addressed among other women. If a woman experienced sexual assault or violence, the presence of a man might remind her of her attacker. Talking about extremely physical and personal events can necessitate the comfort of being in a group of only women.
The presence of men in groups can silence or limit the women in a group. Sexual assault or physical violence survivors may fear talking about their trauma when men are present. Not, however, for the reasons many think. The cultural or relationship gender roles can affect how women respond in the group. For some women, men represent dominance over their lives. Discussing traumatic events that involve other males may be uncomfortable. Some women may edit or remain silent in the group in these cases.
Another positive aspect of women-only treatment is the elimination of gender roles or expectations. Women can express their feelings in a supportive environment. The expression of feelings or thoughts without worry frees the mind and body.
Women and Recovery
Completing a substance addiction treatment program is a positive step toward living a substance-free life. The next step to maintaining sobriety is continuing in an aftercare or alumni program. Why is this necessary? Because women continue to face personal and professional pressures once they leave treatment. A few issues may include:
- Traumatic events
- Gender discrimination
- Personal and social obligations
Women tend to feel they can’t say “no” to requests for help from others or place undue expectations on themselves. An integral part of women-only groups is the ability to discuss these feelings and expectations. Most times, women find that the other women in the group experience the same pressures.
Some challenges women face in substance addiction recovery are exclusive to women. While women and men face the risk of addiction to substances at the same rates, the increased risk of addiction for women after a shorter time and the differences in biology deserve a closer look at how women can benefit from all-women groups. Women in recovery learn every day how to cope with the effects of sexual assault, violence, or other stressors. Treatment in a gender-exclusive environment can strengthen their commitment to themselves. Spero Recovery Center understands the positive effects of finding comfort and acceptance in female-centered groups. Our women’s residential program helps you focus on healing your body and mind. We use the teachings of the 12-Step program and the support of other women to strengthen your individual healing process. For more information about our programs or philosophy on substance addiction treatment, call (303) 351-7888.