Increasing studies on gender and addiction call for gender-responsive treatment. In the past year, 1 in 3 women have reported past illicit drug use. One reason that largely compensates for this behavior is the cultural environment of women.
Culturally, women are more at risk for abuse and discrimination than men. Women are more likely than men to be subject to sexual violence and domestic violence. There is a strong relationship between alcohol and drug problems with women who experienced childhood victimization and sexual assault.
In the workplace women are discriminated against in a variety of ways: salary and promotions. This contributes to the high rates of poverty among women. The Center for American Progress in 2013 concluded that poverty rates are higher for women than men in all racial and ethnic groups. Addiction and substance abuse partake in maintaining this cycle of poverty.
The negative effects of drug abuse and poverty reflect adverse effects on educational attainment, physical and cognitive skills, productivity, and marriage and family. In addition, mental health issues coincide with these issues of drug abuse and poverty.
Anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, eating disorder, trauma, and PTSD result from childhood traumas and are more prevalent in women. In women mental health disorders often come before substance use. Substance use is a form of coping with these issues.
Gender differences in metabolism, physical effects, and medical consequences are also considered when varying treatment for women. Menstrual cycles, for example, affect cravings of certain substances.
When it comes to considering treatment women report more feelings of guilt and shame. These negative emotions are especially associated with lack of emotional and social support. Pressure from family and fear of rejection also hinder women from entering treatment.
The proper way to treat addiction in women would be to isolate their treatment from that of men. The approach should include biological, psychological, and social factors. A full diagnosis includes documenting their history as well as any co-occurring mental health disorders. If treatments characterized each of these concerns there would be a more holistic and effective response to addiction in women. Finally, sensitivity to the stigma of treatment should be addressed in the early stages to ensure women proceed with seeking help.
Women benefit from relationships with other women in recovery. Receiving support from other women can improve retention and maintenance of recovery plans. It is evident that treating women with addictions separately from men is necessary for an improvement in recovery outcome due to their social and biological differences.