Considerations in Treating Women with Addiction

Treating women with addictionBy Jessica Schmoll, MS, LPC

In 2013, as recent research continues to emerge and data are reviewed, the issues surrounding women and addiction are becoming progressively more understood and evermore concerning. The ramifications of the disease of addiction span beyond just a woman’s personal health and wellness; they impact families, communities, and society overall. While still very much a caregiver for family and friends, today’s woman may also be a student, a teacher, a doctor, or a lawmaker. She is everywhere, and the roles she plays impact many. As such, when the disease of addiction develops in a woman’s life, the attention and efforts of her community must engage to combat the catastrophic consequences that not only befall her, but them as well.

One must consider some of the reasons why women use drugs or alcohol initially.  Socially and psychologically, the use and behaviors of addicted women often begin in response to internal questions that are relational in nature: “Will this help me feel less depressed? Anxious? Alone?” “Will this help me lose weight?” “Will this help me be more productive?” Using substances can even be a way to cope with unresolved trauma and subsequent difficulty achieving the much-desired intimacy on which women are wired to thrive. “Will this help me forget?”

It is also critical to contemplate the real physiological dangers women face in the addictive process that started as a way to self-medicate or belong. Biologically, women become intoxicated faster and get addicted sooner than men. Like their male counterparts, but at an accelerated pace, women face health challenges like heart damage and cirrhosis of the liver, compounded by an increase of occurrences of osteoporosis, brain atrophy, and pregnancy and infertility concerns (to name a few).  As such, women are likely to be found requiring medical help years before their fellow male alcoholics and addicts.

Addiction is a biopsychosocial disease. To address it, one must remember that more than just the body requires treatment. In order to adequately acknowledge a partial interpersonal/relational cause, treatment must include a social intervention. In other words, to combat the lonely and shame-based nature of the disease, healthy relationships are critical in the healing process. Helping women learn to steer effectively through relationships with boundaries and self-care sets them up to leave behind the chaos and toxicity that occurs when substances serve as their companions, their lifeline.

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