As a woman living with addiction, it can be difficult to ask for help. Many gender-specific stigmas impact a person’s ability to seek treatment, change habits, and maintain long-term recovery. Without examining these factors, loved ones may not understand the types of support a person will need when they come out of rehab. If you or a loved one is a woman struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD), this resource will help you prepare for the challenges you may face in recovery.
Weight Change With Recovery
Because of body image expectations placed on women, it can be scary for women with SUDs to get help. People coping with addictions can experience severe malnutrition. There is also the factor of dopamine released from food intake now being received properly after years of consistent drug or alcohol use. Eating disorders (EDs) and SUDs are highly correlated with each other, making one four times more likely when the other is present.
It isn’t uncommon for people recovering from SUDs to gain weight, especially if they are receiving treatment for an ED. This knowledge prevents many women from seeking treatment, and it can pose a problem for women in recovery. These women often receive derogatory comments about their weight increase. They can be treated poorly by doctors who are biased against overweight patients. Their partners may express unhappiness with their appearance changes. The woman’s self-esteem can plummet because of internalized messages about their bodies. The stigma surrounding weight is enough to make some women in recovery relapse.
Motherhood and Addiction
Assistance services at times can present barriers that keep women with substance use disorders from getting the help they need to support their families. One of the biggest dilemmas is the inability to obtain a government ID or driver’s license while homeless. Women without an ID usually can’t apply for TANF, SNAP, or any other welfare programs. The benefits of these programs would help ease the financial burden of recovery. These services allow women to get back on their feet with more ease.
Another problem is that some states implement drug and alcohol testing for welfare recipients. We understand that relapse is a normal part of recovery. Approximately two-thirds of people with SUDs who go through treatment will relapse. Unfortunately, women with SUDs can lose all their benefits if they are found to have relapsed even once. Though the programs are largely ineffective, they can instill fear and stress that may affect mothers trying to maintain their recovery.
These are systematic issues outside of any one person’s control. Still, because of the stigma, the inability of a woman with a SUD to care for her family is seen as a moral failure. The fault is attributed to the mom’s mental health instead of systematic issues. For some women, there’s also the looming fear of losing their children.
Stereotypes of Addiction
Women are stereotyped based on gender expectations, even if you take away the factor of substance use disorders. If they’re abstaining from substances, they may be called a prude. If they’re engaging in them, they might be called a drunk or a druggie. Add in SUDs and it increases the severity of stereotypes. In some cases, a woman’s disorder will be downplayed because SUDs are considered a man’s disease. If she doesn’t display traits of violence or aggression, her symptoms won’t be taken seriously by many doctors. In the workplace, if her addiction is known, she may be seen as unintelligent and untrustworthy. This may keep a woman who is qualified and in recovery from receiving promotions. The woman who self-medicates may have her underlying issues, such as stress or trauma, overlooked.
These stereotypes create a stigma that lingers. No matter how much time passes, the labels stick in the minds of others. A woman is seen as lesser for having a SUD, whether she is one day sober or 1,000 days sober. It takes effort and compassion on the part of loved ones to deconstruct these harmful preconceptions. If we want to help a woman recover from a SUD, we need to reframe the way that we think about them.
A Note on Intersectionality
Though these stigmas may exist for most women with substance use disorders, it is important to remember that a person’s experience will be influenced by many factors other than just gender. Race, class, sexuality, biological sex, disability, and age are all characteristics that intersect with gender. Each person’s identities impact the way the world sees them and the way they are treated. For this reason, an individualized and intersectional approach to treatment is necessary for success.
If you’re a woman struggling with a substance use disorder, you might feel isolated from your community. It can be especially hard to seek treatment when coping with societal stigmas. You are not alone. Healing is right at your fingertips. Spero Recovery offers a women’s residential treatment program that understands the issues unique to womanhood. In this 30- to 90-day program, you’ll work through a 12-step program, preparing yourself to live in recovery. Online sponsorship will offer you the ability to find a sober sponsor who supports your unique needs. You’ll live, cook, clean, and socialize with other women. Staff members are prepared to help you find professional counseling that’s right for you. When you’re ready to take the next steps in life, Spero Recovery is ready to help you build a support system free from substances and stigmas. For more information, visit our website or call us today at (303) 351-7888.