The decision to overcome addiction is challenging for anyone, but women face unique struggles when it comes to their recovery. The more we can all understand these issues- and the more we raise awareness to resources and treatment- the more we can support women in their journeys towards wellness.
The statistics on female trauma are staggering. Half of all American women are exposed to at least one traumatic event during their lifetime, and nearly 20% of women have been raped at some point. Moreover, women are more likely to face trauma related to intimate partner violence via physical abuse, sexual abuse, and stalking.
It should come as no surprise that there is a significant relationship between a trauma history and substance use.
- Anywhere from 25-75% of people who have survived a trauma report problematic alcohol use.
- Adolescent sexual assault victims are 4.5x more likely to experience alcohol use or dependence and 9x more likely to experience hard drug abuse or dependence.
- Women exposed to trauma show an increased risk for alcohol use disorder.
On the one hand, trauma can lead to substance use. Many women turn to drugs and alcohol to help cope with the emotional pain related to their trauma. Furthermore, substance use can also lead to trauma. Sometimes, the lifestyle synonymous with drugs and alcohol (blackouts, medical scares, homelessness, poverty, prison, physical fights, etc.) results in an ongoing trauma response.
When women enter sobriety, they need to learn how to process and manage their trauma symptoms in a healthy way. They need to learn how to lean into a new role as a thriver and survivor, rather than as a victim of their past. Of course, this task can feel overwhelming, especially when someone lacks confidence or adaptive coping skills.
Co-Occurring Depression and Anxiety Disorders
Many people struggling with addiction also struggle with another co-occurring mental illness. Subsequently, research shows that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders than men. Substance use tends to numb, suppress, or otherwise ‘manage’ these symptoms- until the person decides to become sober.
It’s not uncommon for women to experience an increase in adverse mental health symptoms during the early stages of recovery. That’s because they no longer have their vice; they’ve closed the escape route. And yet, the feelings are there, the consequences are present, and they have to learn to cope with these new obstacles.
This ‘coping’ can feel impossible, especially for women who have been abusing drugs or alcohol for many years, and it can be a significant trigger in recovery.
Body Image and Eating Disorder Struggles
While both men and women struggle with body image and eating disorders, women are particularly vulnerable to these issues. In fact, a whopping. 91% of women report disliking their bodies.
Many women undergo body changes and drastic weight fluctuations in recovery, and many women report fears of ‘getting fat.’ Additionally, underlying disordered eating- which may or may not be concurrent with substance use- frequently emerges during early recovery. These behaviors act as another compulsion- they provide a semblance of power and control at a time when the woman often feels powerless and out-of-control.
Upwards of 70% of women entering treatment for a substance use disorder have children. Mothers struggling with addiction often face enormous stigma, and they often face difficulties in receiving the help they need.
For one, it may not be realistic or feasible for women to take extended breaks away from their children to attend detox or treatment. Second, they may also fear the consequences that could happen to their children. For example, some women believe that admitting a substance problem could risk their children being taken away.
Comprehensive treatment must entail support for mothers, and this may include relapse prevention, parenting support, and couples and family therapy.
Women seeking treatment have higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and lower education than their male counterparts. They are also less likely to be insured, and if they do have insurance, they are more likely to have public health insurance policies.
While wealth is not essential for recovery, most professional resources cost money. If a woman lacks such resources, it could postpone her treatment or severely limit her options.