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The Role of Empowerment in Women’s Addiction Recovery

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Recovery from alcohol or drug addiction is not an easy feat for anyone – it requires commitment, support, and access to resources, and can also be complicated by co-occurring disorders or other behavioral addictions. Historically, most addiction research conducted has been based on the experiences of men due to higher rates of addiction among men and greater societal visibility of their addiction-related problems. However, men’s and women’s experiences of addiction and treatment do differ. More recently, addiction research indicates that, in contrast to men:

  • Women progress more quickly from substance use to abuse and development of an addiction.
  • Women are twice as likely to die from substance-related problems and more likely to attempt suicide.
  • Women are more likely to develop substance-related health issues, including cognitive impairment, physical injury, anemia, malnutrition, hypertension, ulcers, and liver disease.
  • Women are less likely to seek addiction treatment and encounter more barriers to treatment.
  • Women face greater social stigma surrounding addiction, and as a result, make stronger efforts to hide an addiction.
  • High rates of women with addiction have suffered violence or have PTSD, for which they have not received treatment.
  • Women tend to have lower self-esteem and more emotional problems (depression, anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD), which often precipitate use, resulting in self-medication to cope.
  • Women are perceived as being harder to treat despite evidence that indicates women respond better to treatment.

Barriers Women with Addiction Face

The journey toward recovery can become even more daunting when accounting for the additional barriers to accessing treatment faced by women, such as childcare issues, as women are more likely to be single parents. The fear of separation from children or of loss of child custody is real. Women may also have difficulty stepping out of a caregiver role, lacking finances, transportation problems, lower levels of support and encouragement from family and friends to enter treatment, and partners during an episode of care. They also have greater social isolation and lack of knowledge about or access to available community resources.

This increased attention to women in addiction research reveals that women have unique treatment and recovery needs, which need to be taken into consideration to provide effective care and services. As a result, gender-responsive addiction treatment programs are being developed to meet the specific needs of women. Women-focused programs have demonstrated improved success rates compared to mixed-gender treatment. These programs are designed to identify and address barriers that impede access to treatment, including childcare, co-occurring disorders and trauma, domestic violence, vocational training, housing, other case management issues, and connection to community resources.

Women-Focused Treatment Programs Empower Women

What is also being increasingly recognized is the importance that empowerment plays in a woman’s recovery. As women are more likely than men to isolate in addiction, community support, and connection, which enable change, are less accessible. Women are also more likely to function as a primary caregiver to children and other dependent family members, making it more difficult to ask for help or to garner support from others in taking a hiatus from this role to enter treatment. Additionally, women frequently report feeling “selfish” as the focus shifts more from others to self and self-care when getting treatment for addiction. Women may not be aware of or familiar with community resources available, or there may be numerous obstacles to accessing these. It is, therefore, imperative that female-specific treatment programs work toward empowering women and teaching women to empower themselves in overcoming addiction and addiction-related issues. 

Women-Only Addiction Treatment Programs Available

Female-specific programs are promising avenues to sobriety and healing for women who may have struggled with more traditional options. Pathway to Hope is proud to offer a gender-responsive model of PHP and IOP treatment to promote recovery from addiction and co-occurring disorders and pave the way to a brighter future. We devote time to working with each woman to provide empathy, support, and understanding in exploring each individual journey and developing treatment plans to meet her recovery needs.

Pathway to Hope empowers women in the following ways:

  • Fostering a sense of cohesion and connection within the community of women served
  • Reducing the stigma attached to addiction in women
  • Creating a safe, secure environment, which supports healing
  • Helping women to build self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • Supporting self-care behaviors and initiatives 
  • Using a trauma-informed approach in service delivery and offering EMDR through a dedicated trauma clinician
  • Providing all-female therapy and case management staff from diverse backgrounds to promote inclusion and serve as role models
  • Addressing and treating co-occurring mental health and other disorders
  • Providing or helping women to access medical care
  • Educating about and providing or helping women to access community-based resources for childcare, housing, vocational training, and financial support services
  • Connecting women with community-based recovery support groups
  • Teaching self-advocacy skills and creating balance
  • Involving supportive persons in the treatment process
  • Developing comprehensive relapse prevention and aftercare plans to promote success

The prospect of recovery from addiction can feel overwhelming, but you are not alone. There is a community of women who are ready to be part of your journey.

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