Women tend to experience substance abuse and addiction differently than men. They also have different concerns as far as receiving treatment. The barriers to inpatient rehab for women and other treatment programs are important to understand. There are unique concerns and considerations, from addiction during pregnancy to a preference for women-only rehab.
Addiction in Women
For many decades, addiction research only looked at the effects on men. There were years of studies with only male participants, which led to some of the biases that women faced in receiving treatment.
Since the 1990s, women have been increasingly included in addiction studies, helping researchers uncover their differences from men.
Areas of current study look more at substance-abusing women to improve treatment options and outcomes. There are growing experimental studies and observational studies looking at gender-specific differences in women’s substance use and addiction treatment.
Men are more likely to abuse alcohol and illicit drugs than women. Still, women are more likely to end up in the emergency department or have a deadly overdose due to substance misuse, according to the Mental Health Services Administration.
Other key differences include:
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, women are more likely to have serious side effects from substance abuse than men, such as liver damage among female alcoholics.
- A woman is more likely to transition from abusing substances to dependence and drug addiction than men and do so more quickly. They’re also likely to develop withdrawal symptoms faster if they stop using a substance because of that dependence.
- Self-medication for physical and mental symptoms is more common in females with both prescription and street drugs.
- Women are more likely to have strong cravings for substances and experience relapse.
- Women use smaller amounts of drugs than men before becoming addicted in many cases.
- Sex hormones can make women more sensitive to drugs’ effects than men.
The opioid epidemic has been especially impactful for women and has highlighted the differences between the sexes in using substances.
- Women are more sensitive to the effects of pain and experience chronic pain at higher rates than men. This likely has something to do with women being more likely to abuse prescription opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone and illegal opioids like heroin.
- Along with the experience of pain, women are more likely to use opioids to self-medicate for mental health issues like anxiety.
- Women have a heightened dopamine response in the brain when they take drugs like opioids so that they may develop dependence and an opioid use disorder more quickly.
Another substance to look at is alcohol.
- Historically men had significantly higher alcohol abuse rates. Now, women’s drinking habits are becoming more similar to men’s.
- Women often weigh less than men, so alcohol affects them more significantly. Women are more likely to develop damage and diseases related to alcohol use than men, even after using it for a shorter period.
- Crimes related to alcohol use, such as sexual assault, include female victims significantly more often than men.
Addiction During Pregnancy
Suppose a woman is pregnant and uses substances of any kind. In that case, it’s detrimental to her health and the health of her unborn child. Both short- and long-term effects on children who experience prenatal substance exposure occur.
- Opioids, stimulants, and most other drugs can increase the risk of stillbirth and miscarriage and can harm unborn babies.
- Stillbirth risk is two to three times greater when women take prescription pain medications, use marijuana, smoke tobacco, or use illegal drugs during pregnancy.
- When women use certain substances throughout their pregnancy, their babies may go into withdrawal after they’re born. This is neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS can occur when a pregnant woman uses opioids, alcohol, some prescription sedatives, and caffeine.
- The symptoms and severity of NAS depend on how often substances are used, how much is used, and for how long.
- Effects of addiction during pregnancy can also include fetal alcohol syndrome, congenital disabilities, low birth weight, premature birth, small head size, and an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
There are evidence-based treatments available for women experiencing addiction during pregnancy. Medication-assisted treatment options may be available to help you stop using addictive or illicit substances during pregnancy and behavioral therapy and supportive services.
There’s a sense of fear about telling a health care provider about drug or alcohol addiction during pregnancy, but that ultimately increases the risks for a mother and her baby.
Pregnant women can improve outcomes and reduce the risk of miscarriage by getting the appropriate prenatal care and being honest with their health care provider about their use of alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription drugs.
What Are the Barriers to Treatment for Women?
Like women have different relationships with substances and addiction, they also face different barriers to getting help and participating in a rehab program.
When women have a substance use disorder, they may feel shame or fear the stigma that could be associated with seeking out an inpatient rehab for women or even admitting they have a problem.
Specific barriers of going to inpatient rehab for women or other types of treatment centers like outpatient treatment include:
- Women tend to worry more about how people will see them if they admit they’re struggling with addiction and seek help. If a woman has children, she might be especially apprehensive about getting help because of the fear of judgment or the perception she’s not a good mother.
- When a woman has minor children, she might worry she’ll face legal consequences or lose custody if she goes to rehab, especially to residential drug treatment programs. Women often fear that child protective services will intervene if they admit they have a substance abuse problem or experience substance abuse during pregnancy.
- For pregnant women, prenatal care has to be part of substance abuse treatment programs, and that’s not available at every drug rehab program.
- As a woman with a substance use disorder, you might have fewer financial resources for drug abuse treatment programs. This could prevent you from getting treatment because you worry you can’t take time off work or can’t afford inpatient rehab for women. You might also be financially dependent on another person and worry about how you would get the money for time in treatment.
- The majority of women tend to be primary family caretakers. Along with caring for children, you could also be caring for other family members, causing you to worry about an inability to take time away from these responsibilities.
- Co-occurring disorders, including depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and similar mental illnesses, occur at high rates in women with substance use disorder. These mental health disorders can make it more challenging to realize help is needed and seek it out.
- Many women deal with substance abuse issues because of a history of trauma, such as being the victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence. This can contribute to denial, shame, and an unwillingness to get help.
Unfortunately, women of color may experience even more significant barriers to getting treatment for substance use.
How Women with Substance Use Disorders Can Get Help
When you’re a woman, whether you’re struggling with addiction during pregnancy, trauma, mental health disorders, or anything else, you need a treatment program and rehab center tailored to your needs. A women-only rehab can often be a good option because you might feel more comfortable in this environment.
Programs for women should take your unique differences into account as part of the addiction treatment process for drug or alcohol addiction.
In a secure environment for women, you’ll be with people who understand what you’re going through in gender-specific programs. The setting allows you to build strong relationships and have a sense of social support when you’re going through treatment.
The more support and comfort you feel, the better your substance abuse treatment outcomes are likely to be.
The biggest thing to realize is that recovery is possible, and no matter what you perceive the obstacles to be, treatment is available to you. There are outpatient programs in addition to inpatient rehab and higher levels of care.
We encourage you to contact The Right Time Recovery team by calling 800-630-1218 to learn more about gender-specific treatments available in Southern California, women-only programs, and substance abuse treatment programs. We can help you find the type of treatment right for your situation.