Men and women have unique life experiences that the opposite gender cannot always relate to. When it comes to addiction and recovery, men and women have different risk factors that lead them to addiction, different needs when it comes to treatment, and different barriers for women in addiction treatment that stand between their current situation and achieving long-term sobriety.

While women and men are equally as likely to develop a substance use disorder, studies show that women are more susceptible to craving and relapse.[1] Receiving individually-tailored, evidence-based treatment can help women get sober, stay sober, and truly embrace life in recovery. However, they must get into treatment first, and have the support they need to stay sober.

The many barriers women face in addiction treatment and recovery can hold women back from living the healthy, sober, and happy life they deserve. Here are the top four barriers women face in treatment and recovery.

1. Not Being Able to Find or Afford Childcare and Fear of Child Protective Services Involvement

A major concern among many women seeking addiction treatment involves motherhood. For example, pregnant women may have trouble finding a treatment program that treats pregnant women and accepts health insurance.[2] Pregnant women may also feel as though they will miss out on the experience of pregnancy if they go to rehab, causing them to delay getting treatment.

Mothers with children may face additional barriers, as well. They struggle to find reliable and affordable childcare for the time in which they will spend in rehab. They may also be fearful of the state’s child protective services getting involved if people find out about their substance abuse.

The host of worries and responsibilities that come with motherhood may stop women from seeking treatment or prevent them from completing their rehab program in its entirety because a mother may be tempted to leave rehab early to go back home to her children.

Tips for success: If you are a mother, know that no matter your situation, your children will be better off when you are sober. This means you should go to any means possible to find childcare and treatment that works for you. Ask friends, family, neighbors, and others to help with childcare. You may also choose an outpatient program that allows you to continue caring for your children as you receive treatment on an outpatient basis. Finally, child protective services can not intervene simply for you going to rehab. They will only intervene if an existing situation requires their involvement. And, you’re more likely to keep your children in your custody if you are sober and capable of parenting to the fullest extent.

2. Intimate Partner Violence

Another common barrier women face when it comes to seeking addiction treatment and staying in recovery is intimate partner violence. Nearly 1 in 4 women have experienced intimate partner violence. Substance abuse is involved in 40-60% of intimate partner violence and 60-75% of women in substance abuse treatment report a history of intimate partner violence.[3,4, 5]

Women experiencing domestic abuse or violence may be tempted to use drugs or alcohol to cope, but they may also fear for their safety if they go to rehab. This fear can keep them trapped not only in an abusive relationship but also in their addiction.

Women with a history of intimate partner violence who do seek treatment may have difficulty trusting others, getting vulnerable in therapy sessions, and disclosing the details of their intimate relationships. This reluctance in treatment may prevent women from obtaining the complete healing they need to recover.

Tips for success: The earlier you leave an abusive relationship, the easier things will be. Let the rehab center know that they are not allowed to share your information or whereabouts with your abuser. Finally, during treatment, remember that many women share the same experiences as you do with physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, so there is no shame in opening up about your experiences. Consider finding a rehab center that specializes in women or one that offers gender-specific treatment.

3. Shame, Fear, Guilt, and Stigma

Women face a lot of pressure from society as a whole. They face pressure to look, act, and think in a certain way. They also face a lot of judgment in certain professions, sports, hobbies, and other activities. Due to societal pressures, women struggling with addiction may feel shame, guilt, or fear when it comes to seeking treatment.

These feelings can stem from different reasons. A woman may feel shame and embarrassment because she is afraid of her friends, family, or loved ones finding out that she has been abusing drugs or alcohol. Another woman may feel guilty because she feels like she has failed at being a friend, daughter, mother, or partner due to her addiction. These troublesome emotions can hold women back from seeking treatment and also make it difficult to stay sober.

Studies show that women often have difficulty acknowledging their problems with drugs and alcohol and professionals are reluctant to ask women about their substance use, but burying these issues is no plausible, long-term solution.[6]

Tips for success: Be completely open and honest with your therapist. Your therapist is not there to judge you or shame you, and he or she can help you work through some of these self-defeating emotions that are holding you back. Therapies like CBT and DBT focus directly on thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, so there is no feeling that you can’t overcome.

4. Trauma, PTSD, and Co-Occurring Disorders

Trauma, PTSD, and other mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder increase the risk of substance abuse and addiction in both men and women, but co-occurring disorders are more common in women. In other words, women are more likely to suffer comorbid mental health and substance abuse issues than men are, meaning women often require comprehensive, integrated treatment.[5]

Trauma or mental health conditions can make addiction recovery more difficult than it already is because individuals must receive treatment for both conditions. These conditions can also make staying sober difficult because the re-emergence of symptoms can result in a relapse. As a result, women are more likely to relapse due to their mental health than men.

Tips for success: Just because women are more likely to have a co-occurring mental health condition doesn’t mean they can’t stay sober. Dual diagnosis treatment centers offer intensive care for both substance abuse and mental illness. If you know you have a dual diagnosis, seek treatment from one of these facilities for the care you deserve.

barriers women face in addiction treatment

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