Men and women have different needs during recovery. Addiction affects all people the same in some ways and much differently in other ways. For example, men are more likely to suffer addiction overall, but women are more likely to telescope from normal usage to abuse. Also, self-medication is more prevalent in women than it is in men.
During recovery, women are more likely to wind up with physical problems, such as liver or pancreas damage, than men, but the withdrawal side effects on men are more severe than they are in women. No matter someone’s gender, everyone needs support. Women have particular needs over and above the standard while kicking their substance abuse habit.
Chief among these needs is natal care, if the women in question are pregnant. Illicit substances can have a devastating effect on both the mother and the unborn fetus. If a woman were to give birth while in treatment, then the baby itself might be born addicted to some substance and require its own detoxification and treatment.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration maintains documents called Treatment Improvement Protocols, or TIPS. TIP No. 51 outlines some of the gender-specific treatment plans and processes regarding women. The doctors, clinicians, and other medical professionals involved in the crafting of TIP No. 51 have a veritable alphabet soup of curricula vitae too numerous to list here. Suffice to say that a group of well-known and respected experts gathered and analyzed the data of several studies to form general conclusions
Women were shown to become addicted faster than men, even though the incidence of addiction is far less than with men. Women’s abuse of these substances is tied inexorably to their lives, relationships, and families in a way than men’s abuse is not. Women, too, suffer severe consequences even from taking too many laxatives and over-the-counter cold or pain medications. These include gastrointestinal issues, menstrual problems, and even heart problems. These physical challenges make the handling of the mental issues of substance abuse crucial.
By focusing women’s treatment efforts on the realization that they have a problem, abuse counselors and doctors can more effectively develop coping strategies that will make the women not only feel better mentally but also physically. This is an advantage because the women can notice a concrete change in their bodies that shows the treatment is working. By developing the relationship between physical and mental treatment, abuse counselors can reinforce the developmental perspective building in the women’s minds themselves.
Women, too, benefit from a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. Society treats women differently than men, and its expectations for women’s recovery are particularly unforgiving. In addition to developing women’s strategies, counselors should leverage the caretaker roles that women are traditionally expected to adopt by teaching women to be their own caregivers. By teaching them mechanisms they can use to care for themselves, counselors can turn society’s preconceived notions on their collective ears and empower women.
Empowerment leads to strength-based treatment options that are more successful than other strategies. By empowering women, counselors and doctors can help them stand up to enablers and other family members and friends who contributed to the abuse of illicit substances.
Many times, women fear entering treatment because their fear losing custody of their children. They also fear being singled out by other women as failures, bad mothers, or worse. Asking for help shouldn’t come with pain or torture. Counselors should be kind and compassionate. They should also be sure to build women up until they can be happy with themselves and looking toward the future.
The most successful treatment programs for women are those that see to their specific needs, such as maintaining a nonpunitive treatment regimen, supportive therapy, and sometimes even onsite childcare, . Loneliness is a big problem, but just holding someone’s hand while encouraging them can be a giant boost to their outlook, self-esteem, and long-term success in treatment.
In all, treating women in the 21st century for the abuse of illicit substances has challenges intrinsic to both women themselves and society’s perception of them. The key is to strengthen the former and marginalize the latter by focusing on the women’s worth for just being themselves. They should control their own destiny, not society!