5 Reasons Why Recovery is More Difficult For Women

It’s not easy being a woman, especially if you struggle with substance abuse. Women are more sensitive to chemicals than men are, including natural ones like our hormones and synthetic ones like heroin. But, that doesn’t mean women can’t recover from drug or alcohol addiction. It just means women need to acknowledge our additional challenges as a gender and work our recovery around those issues.

Not only is recovery different for both genders, but data has also suggested men and women start using drugs for different reasons. According to Straussner and Brown in their book, The Handbook of Addiction Treatment for Women: Theory and Practice, men start using drugs recreationally because they like how they feel when they use. On the other hand, women start using drugs because their peer group or partner is partaking. Women generally feel if they don’t conform, they’ll be the odd one out or potentially offend someone.

We all know that once you become addicted to drugs, stopping is incredibly difficult. Here are five challenges women specifically face in recovery.

5. Stigma

There are many kinds of alcoholics. There’s that person who out-drinks their friends every single night, barely manages to get up for work the next day (or has trouble staying employed) and brings home a new sexual partner regularly. If you apply that description to a man, he sounds like a typical “life of the party” kind of guy. He’s a fun person you might want to socialize with. However, if you apply that description to a woman, she doesn’t sound like someone you want to hang out with, she sounds like someone who is very depressed and leads a sad, even dangerous life.

Unfortunately for women, double standards exist in many aspects of their lives. The truth is that the stigma against female alcoholics and addicts weighs far heavier than it does for males. Stigma deters women from labeling themselves as alcoholics or addicts or admitting they might have a problem with substance abuse. They fear if they seek treatment, people may look down on them, so it’s much easier not to acknowledge or treat the problem.

4. Fear

Cultural and gender norms make women feel obligated to be caretakers. Women and men often have different familial roles. For example, it is usually the woman in the family who is in charge of getting the kids dressed and to school on time. While childcare is certainly a legitimate concern for many women, fear of separation from family can prevent women from taking the necessary steps to get sober. A woman deep in her disease may not be able to recognize she is not going to be the best mother, wife, friend, partner, etc, if she is using. She may be physically present, but mentally checked out. All children deserve a mother who is both physically and emotionally able to care for them. Furthermore, if a woman dies of her disease, the affects on her family will last a lifetime.

3. Data Suggests Women Wait Longer To Enter Rehab and Don’t Stay Long Enough

In a study documented in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, female subjects were further into their disease by the time they entered rehab than the male subjects were. Furthermore, the female subjects were more likely to leave treatment before they completed their 30-day programs. Because it takes 90 days for new neural pathways to form in the brain, this study suggests that statistically, women may be putting themselves in front of yet another hurdle to recovery.

2. Men Have A Biological Advantage

As women, our size also makes us more susceptible to the effects of drugs. Women tend to be shorter, weigh less and have less muscle and bone mass. If a larger person and a smaller person take the same dose of any drug, whether it’s a street drug like cocaine, or a prescription drug like Vicodin, the dosage has a stronger impact on the smaller person.

Alcohol also affects men and women differently. It takes less alcohol to make a woman drunk because women have less water in their bodies than men do. Women also have lower levels of dehydrogenase (ADH), the enzyme response for breaking down alcohol. So, if a man and a woman both have a shot of liquor, the woman will not only become more intoxicated then the man will, but she will also remain intoxicated for a longer period of time.

1. It’s All About Estrogen

The female hormone estrogen plays a role in addiction. Like many drugs, it can make women feel really good or quite the opposite. It awakens the dopamine receptors in the brain, which are responsible for producing pleasure. The more dopamine women have, they more they want.

Furthermore, the affects of a woman’s menstrual cycle can pose additional challenges to recovery. Women often feel depressed, anxious and have mood swings during their monthly cycle. These mood changes can trigger urges to use drugs to cope with them. In addition, fatigue during the menstrual cycle makes it more difficult for women to motivate themselves to exercise, go to meetings or partake in other activities necessary to maintain their sobriety.

Amanda Lauren

Amanda Lauren

Amanda Lauren's writing has appeared on Ravishly, Salon, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, After Party Chat, The Richest, No Tofu and some other places, but she doesn't want to get braggy. She is currently working on her memoir "I Only Cried Twice Today: Epic Incidents in La La Land". A native New Yorker, Amanda currently lives in Los Angeles with her fiancée and their two dogs, Lulu and Milo.
Amanda Lauren

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