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Unique Barriers Women Face in the Recovery from Alcoholism

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Women have reported a startling increase in alcoholism and alcohol use disorders over the past decade.

Though recovery is possible for everyone, there are many barriers to treatment which women face during the recovery process.

Women Struggle Differently Than Men

The consequences associated with heavy drinking happen faster for women. They encounter drinking-related problems and lose control over their drinking more quickly than men.

Women typically have less body mass and less water content in their bodies than their male counterparts. This means that after a woman and a man of the same weight drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman’s blood alcohol concentration (or BAC) will tend to be higher. A higher BAC puts her at greater risk for harm. This not only causes women to become more impaired as a result of drinking, it also exposes vital organs to more alcohol before it’s broken down. This can lead to a wide variety of health problems, including alcoholism.

Chronic alcohol use takes a greater physical toll on women. Female alcoholics have death rates 50 – 100% higher than male alcoholics. Female alcoholics also have a higher percentage of death due to alcohol-related injuries, suicides, circulatory disorders and cirrhosis of the liver.

Barriers to Treatment for Alcoholism

Some of the biggest treatment barriers for women are related to social structure. Women are often less likely to seek addiction treatment because they:

  • Are concerned about the impact their absence may cause in their family
  • Tend to seek care in mental health or primary care settings rather than in specialized treatment programs
  • Are more likely to experience economic barriers to treatment
  • Are more likely to report feeling shame or embarrassment when they seek treatment
  • Often suffer from anxiety or depressive disorders that prevent them from seeking help specifically for addiction

 

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that women to avoid seeking treatment for substance use and alcoholism is the perceived impact it will have on their families. Many women are central caregivers in their family. They often provide care and support for a spouse, children, aging parents, and perhaps also neighbors, friends or acquaintances. Many are afraid that if they leave to seek treatment, the entire network will fall apart without their support.

 

 

 

Women Face Unique Challenges

In many ways, the life experience of women is distinct from that of their male counterparts. Women are much more likely to have been the victims of trauma, abuse or neglect than man. This includes:

 

  • Domestic violence
  • Homelessness
  • Victimization
  • Sexual trauma
  • Sexual assault
  • Molestation
  • Sexual abuse

These barriers also coincide with other mental health disorders. Co-occurring mental disorders are common with addiction and may also include:

 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Low self-esteem

 

Any one of these mental health disorders can exacerbate substance use in unique ways. These are often compounded by other challenges that women face. When these challenges include:

  • Lack of access to childcare
  • Fear of stigma
  • Unfavorable family or financial environments for mothers
  • Social pressure

As a result, women do not receive the help that they need or deserve because of these challenges

Evidence-based, trauma-informed treatment addresses the unique needs of women. Fortunately, research suggests that women’s treatment outcomes are as good as, or better than, men’s.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism or addiction, the time to seek help is now.