Substance addiction can affect anyone and has been known to affect women differently from men. There are rehabilitation centres and support services available which understand these differences and specialise in helping women on their road to recovery.
Until the 1990s, most of the research1 into substance abuse was focused on men, with the assumption that the effects of substance use, and therefore the process of recovery, would be the same for women.
However, because of the biological and social differences between men and women, the experiences women have with drugs and alcohol can be very different to the experiences men have, even if they are using the same substances.
For example, it has been found2 that women are less likely to abuse drugs than men are, but can become addicted to drugs much more easily.
Unfortunately, women are also more likely to overdose on drugs than men are, and are also more likely to relapse during recovery3. Understanding these increased risks has changed how addiction in women is treated, as the methods that work with men are not always as effective with women.
The reasons why women may abuse certain substances are also different, with many women who suffer from addiction stating that they started out by trying to self-medicate a particular issue or were turning to stimulants in order to help them power through busy days of work and childcare.
There are also women who turn to drugs in order to escape difficult situations at home, including domestic abuse, and so having a welcoming, female-led space in which to pursue their recovery is often extremely helpful.
While every individual will have unique needs, regardless of sex or gender, the relatively new research into how substance abuse affects women, in general, has helped to push support services to the next level.
In particular, digging into the cause of addiction often plays a big role in the planning of treatment, so understanding that men and women typically have different motives for their substance abuse is a game-changer.
Organisations that focus on helping women with addiction, such as Women for Sobriety, were established to create safe spaces that are catered to women’s needs.
They typically welcome anyone who identifies as female, as they understand that it’s both the biological and sociological differences between women and men that need to be considered when planning treatment.
Entering any new therapy or treatment can be scary, especially if it involves a big lifestyle change, like overcoming addiction. Being surrounded by people with a shared perspective can make it much less daunting, and a feeling of belonging can make you more open to receiving the help you need4.
There is a wide range of therapies and treatments available to help you combat addiction, including:
These can all be accessed either as outpatient weekly sessions, or as part of a live-in rehabilitation programme.
You can speak to your GP for a referral or, if you are not comfortable discussing your substance abuse with them, self-referrals can be made to many NHS and private services.
Not everyone who has a drug or alcohol dependence will have a physical addiction, but those who do will need to detox as the first stage of their recovery.
Because of how taxing drugs and alcohol can be on the body, the detoxification process can be very difficult. Many people find that staying in a rehab centre makes the process a little easier, as you know that your recovery is being managed by professionals, and support is always on hand.
What’s more, these centres often have prescription medications available that can ease the distressing withdrawal symptoms, and being in the centre means that you don’t need to manage the prescriptions on your own.
It’s only once the physical cravings have subsided that the psychological healing can begin. Being in a rehab centre means that you have a guide along the way, who keeps an eye on your progress and encourages you onto the next steps.
Daily stress has been found to be a common cause of addiction in women. Taking time for yourself, having people take care of you, and not having to worry about what is going on around you, can all give you the clear head that is needed when trying to overcome addiction.
Rehab centres look at you as a whole, not just at your addiction. They can teach you methods to manage stress better and improve your general wellbeing.
If you have responsibilities that prevent you from entering a live-in facility, or you would simply prefer not to, there are even rehabilitation programmes available online.
This is recommended more for people in the early stages of addiction, who are less likely to face nasty withdrawal symptoms during the detox phase. Much like the inpatient centres, online rehab can help you to process those negative thoughts and feelings that lead you to addiction in the first place.
If you enter rehab with an addiction and a co-occurring condition, such as anxiety or depression, you will have the opportunity to work through both issues at once. Substance use and mental health struggles often go hand-in-hand, and so rehab centres have specialists who know how to compose a treatment plan that will tackle these problems together.
The aim of rehab is for you to leave feeling better than you did when you arrived. Often this goes much further than just ridding you of addiction.
Rehab centres take a holistic approach to your recovery and aim to rebuild your confidence, improve your resilience, and restore balance to your life.
There are rehabilitation centres that double as refuge centres for women escaping domestic abuse. They can help with housing benefit applications, job applications, and all you need to commence a new life once you leave the centre.
It is important that you do not view rehab as the end of your recovery journey. While you are in rehab, it is easier to avoid triggers for your substance abuse, but they may return once you are back in your usual environment.
Rehabilitation should have given you the tools you need to process these triggers without relapsing. If this proves difficult, you will usually have retained some contacts at the rehab centre whom you can reach out to.
Recovery lasts a lifetime. It is an active process that you need to keep working at, and will become easier as time goes on. The aftercare provided by the rehabilitation centre may include regular therapy and counselling sessions, or you might wish to access some via the NHS.
You might be put in touch with alumni from the rehab centre who can coach you on the next steps, and act as a sponsor. Many women find that attending female-exclusive mutual support groups can help to supplement the support they had in rehab. Speak to your rehab mentor or your GP to find out about groups in your area.
What many women neglect, as their lives get busy, is self-care. Drugs and alcohol can seem like a quick and easy fix if you are struggling with sleep, work, or stress, but they will make matters worse in the long run.
While in rehab, you will be encouraged to practice self-care and introspection, so that you can learn to deal with daily stresses without needing to fall back into your addiction.
Self-care can be as easy as taking a hot bath with a good book, but there are also many alternative therapies that can help to calm your mind and recentre you. These can include:
Chances are, you will try many of these during your time in rehab, particularly meditation, mindfulness and art therapy, as these have long been recognised as helpful practices during addiction recovery.
These aren’t recommended as a replacement to conventional therapy and rehabilitation, but many women do find that these activities help to calm their minds when confronted by triggers for their substance use.