According to The Alcohol and Drug Problem Association of North America, women make up 40% of North America’s addicted population, yet only 26% seek treatment for their addiction.
Substance abuse leading to addiction is present in every culture, both gender groups, every adult age group and sometimes younger, and in people from every social and educational background. However, what seems clear according to extensive research, is that men and women arrive at their addiction from different directions and through different sets of circumstances and life experiences.
Men and women have different biological and physiological responses to substance abuse and they also have different reasons for turning to substances as a psychological crutch in the first place. Because of the different brain chemistry, women become addict more quickly than men and tend to have different pre-disposing emotional factors at play. For example women are more likely than men to abuse substances in response to a traumatic event in their life such as sexual, physical and emotional abuse, using it to help them cope with the feelings of shame, guilt and low self-esteem. They are also more prone to suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders and are twice more likely to attempt suicide.
Professionals believe that residential care treatment programs produce greater results in a shorter period of time, because it removes the addict from the sources of temptation and in some cases, the source of their traumatic experiences. Gender specific group therapy is preferred and is seen as an important part of the female addict’s treatment program. This it is believed allows women to deal with issues relating to their addiction head-on, without distractions. Before treatment begins however, an historical profile of the woman is essential, this allows the therapist to garner as much insight as possible into the psychological make up of the individual.
It is also believed that gender specific groups foster compassion and provide a nonjudgmental environment in which women can explore their fears and struggles, leaving them free to share their life experiences with other women whom they perceive as being in the same boat as themselves.
Treatment programs also take other factors into consideration such as the monthly hormonal shifts, as this can often trigger relapses. The possibility of relapse is part of the treatment package therefore it has built-in strategies to prevent this from happening as far as possible. Family members are seen as integral to the success of the addict’s attempt to rid themselves of the disease and are often educated about key factors surrounding their relatives addiction and are encouraged to become part of their support system.
Another crucial part of the treatment is one-on-one counseling which gives women an opportunity to explore and examine grief, religious and spiritual beliefs amongst other issues. The treatment aims to help them to discover and make connections with their inner-self and others and helps them to make healthier choices for their mind and body. It also helps them to foster a new appreciation of their potential helping them to discover abilities, previously masked by their addiction.
Women have a tendency to respond more positively than men to treatment and as a result derive greater benefits, this is thought to be because they are more likely to stay and finish the prescribed course of treatment.