Sun. May 22nd, 2022

All you should know about Addiction, Recovery, and Women

 by Cher Zevala

Men and women aren’t as different as Mars and Venus, as that popular book asserts, but that doesn’t mean the sexes are one in the same. Our distinct biologies impact how we interact with our environments, often determining how we eat, how we socialize – and how we become addicted.

More and more studies are concluding that the sexes abuse substances for differing reasons and in differing capacities. Unfortunately, the vast majority of sobriety materials and recovery centers use male-centric methods to help patients overcome their addictions, and as a result, female addicts suffer. It is vital that the public understand how women experience addiction differently, so women in rehabilitation can receive the resources they need to become healthy.

How Women’s Addictions Differ?

Overall, women are less likely to abuse substances than men: According to the 2008 U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 11.5 percent of men were addicted or dependent on substances, compared to just 6.4 percent of women. However, that doesn’t mean women aren’t in danger of experiencing addiction.

Perhaps most importantly, the reasons women seek substances differs greatly from the addiction impetus of men. Most women with addictions claim a history of abuse:

  • 74 percent of addicted women report sexual abuse
  • 72 percent of addicted women report emotional abuse
  • 52 percent of addicted women report physical abuse

Perhaps worse, women with addiction problems tend to experience such trauma dramatically more than the average population, being victimized more frequently, for longer periods, and by more perpetrators than typical abuse survivors.

Comparatively, male addicts seek substances for vastly different reasons: boredom, peer pressure, interest in risky behavior, etc. Though some men abuse substances because of trauma – and some women do not – trends indicate that reasons for addiction are distinct between the genders.

What’s more, the ways in which women experience addiction are unique. Though fewer women abuse addictive substances, their addictions tend to be more dangerous than those of male counterparts. Typically, female addictions escalate faster than male addictions – women move more quickly from casual use to dependence, and they move on to harder substances sooner than men do.

Additionally, because of their smaller body size, higher fat content, and other physiological differences, women tend to experience drastic medical consequences of addiction earlier than men, meaning it takes less time for their lives to be threatened by their addictions. Therefore, it is imperative that women find effective treatment for their addictions, so they can heal fully and avoid the disastrous effects of addiction.

What Women Need to Heal

Women Heal
Traditionally, rehabilitation consists of single-focused intervention, which is treatment of the addiction itself with no attention paid to other issues, like underlying psychological trauma. Yet, because women tend to become addicted due to past traumas, such an approach is unlikely to have a lasting impact on women’s addictions.
Social obligations – and the gender roles that enforce them – often encourage women to leave treatment after fewer than 30 days, which severely impedes their ability to recover. Furthermore, their physiology ensures that women have a stronger physical dependence on substances, which means they will experience worse withdrawals and cravings. Ultimately, women tend to find it more difficult to quit and are dramatically more likely to relapse during and after treatment.

Therefore, traditional rehab centers aren’t suited to address women’s needs during addiction recovery. Instead, a holistic women’s drug rehab, equipped with programs targeting women’s issues, is the best chance many addicted women have to find sobriety and a stable life. Often, such centers will have opportunities for network-based therapy, which helps women regain social support, as well as physical education, which helps women learn healthy eating and exercise habits so they can feel healthy and whole without substances. Some centers even include alternative therapies, such as neurofeedback techniques that allow therapists to understand potential mental disorders, or creative therapies like art and music.


Usually, a woman’s addiction is merely a symptom of a much more devastating disease lurking within. Therefore, women need specific treatment to overcome not only their physical dependencies but also their psychological, emotional, or social issues. Women can recover from substance abuse – and its underlying cause’s – but they need unique care, and such targeted centers are only just beginning to emerge. With more awareness of women’s distinctive struggles in addiction, more women can find the help they need to heal.


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