Understanding Women and Addiction
Are There Particular Drugs Women are Addicted To?
When discussing women and addiction, there are a variety of factors to take into account. At the most basic level, it’s important to understand that addiction is a disease. No woman decides to become an addict or alcoholic.
Addiction statistics for women depend on a variety of genetic, psychological, and social factors. There are certain gender-specific issues that affect women and can even create barriers to them seeking help.
Women and Addiction? The Two Don’t Mix!
The idea that there are female addicts points to a change in how society views women and addiction. In fact, according to The Handbook of Addiction Treatment for Women, “for many years, even centuries, it was a commonly held belief that women did not become alcoholics or addicts”[i].
The women’s movements of the late 60’s and 70’s helped change this view. They allowed women to be recognized as addicts. This allowed for research into female specific addiction and the development of female-specific recovery resources. They also birthed the need for women’s treatment centers around the country.
Addiction Statistics Show More Men Engage in Treatment
Men are more likely than women to seek treatment. It’s been estimated that only 30% of female addicts receive treatment[ii]. Addiction being thought of as a moral issue, rather than a disease, plays a large factor in this statistic.
Female addicts can be, and often are, cast in a harsher light than their male counterparts. This is due in large part to society’s view of women as wives, caregivers, and mothers[iii]. This view of women gives some insight into why the percentage of women seeking help is so much lower than men.
There are also the stereotypes associated with women and addiction. For example, female addicts are often thought of as being prostitutes. Of course, this almost always isn’t the case.
Addiction is a disease and occurs regardless of race, sex, or socioeconomic standing. However, due to this stereotype of female addicts, medical professionals often fail to diagnose substance abuse if their patient doesn’t exhibit the social stereotypes associated with women and addiction.
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Understanding Addiction Statistics for Women
It’s important to understand gender differences when treating women for addiction. For example, women are less likely than men to have used illegal drugs[iv]. However, once they start, women tend to become addicted quicker and experience medical consequences sooner than men[v].
A successful women’s treatment center addresses major risk factors, consequences of addiction, and barriers to recovery for women. Research in addiction treatment shows that clients are best served by programs that meet individualized needs[vi]. A woman with a history of abuse has a better chance of recovery in a program which addresses mental and social consequences of abuse, as well as the basic issues of addiction.
It’s still a relatively new issue to view women as addicts and alcoholics. Social stigmas often present barriers for women seeking help. It’s vital for women’s treatment centers to address the unique and specific needs of their female clients.