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More on Women and Addiction

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More on Women and Addiction

suffering woman with pillsSometimes you have to sift through the government literature that relates to addiction, but once you find it, there’s often some significant information. For example, our government has provided important data about women and substance abuse. Here’s something from a National Institutes of Health website:

The term telescoping describes an “accelerated progression from the initiation of substance use to the onset of dependence and first admission to treatment…. Thus, when women enter substance abuse treatment they typically present with a more severe clinical profile (e.g., more medical, behavioral, psychological, and social problems) than men, despite having used less of the substance and having used the substance for a shorter period of time compared with men.”

This site also stated that eating disorders, which are 2 to 3 times higher in women than in men, are found in high rates (40%) among women with substance-use disorders—particularly purging.

I’m no researcher, but it seemed to me that some of the information would be hard to find elsewhere, such as “The reinforcing effects of stimulants may be strongly influenced by women’s hormonal milieu. Basic and clinical studies show that estrogen increases, and progesterone decreases, the reinforcing effects of stimulants for women.” As you can see, this can get pretty technical, but there’s a lot on this one page that points out how great the gender differences are when it comes to substance abuse.

As far back as 2008, a director at SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) issued a “A Call to Action” to anyone who was listening: “When we look at our data, we find that 6.9 million women are needing but not receiving treatment.”(Surely that number has increased significantly as a result of the rise in prescription pill – and heroin – abuse in the last few years.)

The SAMHSA staff member spoke about the widespread denial among women relating to their substance abuse, and reasons women give for not making an effort to get treatment: “not knowing where to go, negative effects on their job, and no health insurance. More importantly, of those women who need treatment, many say they are not ready to stop using.” Another speaker spoke about the importance of getting information on substance abuse to young women and girls.

I’ll end this post by pointing you to a December 2013 Psychology Today article, “How Treatment is Different,” by a woman in recovery who cites a few gender differences herself relating to treatment, including the hormonal link. The author talks about her personal experience in dating during the time she was using, as well as during her first year of sobriety. It was heartening to see her quote Dr. Jerry Brown, whom she calls a leading advocate for gender-separated treatment, about how treating women for addiction is often about treating trauma. Brown said he also tells men about the hormonal link to substance abuse in women, because they may have female loved ones who are addicts.

She quotes yet another reason some women are loath to seek treatment: the absence of childcare. Unfortunately, she mentions only three treatment centers with gender-separated treatment. There are several others, and someone should tell her about The Brentwood House.



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