Addiction does not discriminate between men and women, age, economic status, or cultural background. It affects both genders and those who care about them.
People struggling with a severe substance use disorder, also called addiction, will focus on their substance of choice to the point of obtaining it at all costs. Their continued use might cause significant problems in their families, with friends and jeopardize their living situation, finances, and health.
Addiction treatment is readily available for many people who want to stop misusing substances so that they can recover and go forward, leading a better life.
For many people, the time after addiction treatment ends and their new life begins can be wrought with real-life challenges that could lead to relapse. In fact, statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicate the relapse rate is between 40 to 60 percent for people in recovery. This begs the question we hope to answer: are women more likely to relapse after treatment?
Women and men become addicted to substances differently. They also differ in the types of substances used and the reasons they started misusing substances. How each gender is affected by the substance and how much of it is abused is also a factor in addiction treatment. For instance, women tend to respond differently to substances, have more cravings, and are prone to relapse more than men, NIDA notes.
Before any assumptions are made, it is important to know the reasons why women relapse more than men.
Society places a large and heavy burden on women to be perfect. It is expected that women will be perfect in all they do, from being a life partner to being the perfect mother. Society often does not remember that the stresses that come with this imperfect image can cause real harm to a woman. Substance use is one of those harms. Here are a few reasons women misuse substances:
Women are more likely to use a substance when an intimate partner introduces them to it and keep using it to cement the relationship. They are also more likely to use stimulants to suppress their appetite and manage their weight, as PsychCentral notes in this article.
The site also mentions that the biology of females is a contributing factor in women with addiction. As said in the article, “Studies have also implicated estrogen in the development of addiction. In addition to affecting dopamine release, hormonal changes impact women’s ‘sensitization’ to drugs.”
A woman’s menstrual cycle is a good indicator of the role of hormone changes and cravings for substances and other consumables.
Women are prone to relapse as much as men. Substance use triggers and strong cravings can be tough to manage. However, women have unique circumstances for relapse that men do not have. For instance:
As mentioned above, the postpartum period can be a cause for a woman to relapse. During pregnancy, the focus is almost entirely on the health of the unborn infant. Health insurance plans tend to cover the length of pregnancy longer than the postpartum period. Thus, there is a lack of resources for women who are experiencing postpartum symptoms, such as depression.
The postpartum period can possibly lead to relapse as the woman probably did not use drugs or alcohol when pregnant but could go back to using substances again after the infant is born. Reasons a woman would relapse at this time could be:
A Pew Charitable Trusts study says, “Sleep deprivation, dramatic hormonal shifts and the day-to-day realities of caring for an infant create enormous stress for all women, but especially for those who are struggling to stay in recovery from drug use.”
It is essential that women receive effective substance use treatment and are given the skills and resources to prevent relapse.
Relapse is not a sign of failure. It is an indication that the skills to prevent it need changing to ensure the person struggling with substance use can manage the inevitable triggers and cravings that occur.
Women, more than men, tend not to relapse due to better attending 12-step programs, family therapy, group therapy, and other forms of group counseling. Women also seem to receive more social support after substance use treatment than men. Social support may come from the workplace, family, and friends.
Relapse prevention is a vital part of addiction treatment. Behavioral therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy, can be beneficial in helping you see the high-risk factors that can lead to relapse. High-risk situations usually come with warning signs. You can be taught to recognize these signs and learn how to avoid them.
Examples are when you start to feel stressed or rationalize positive outcomes for using the substance(s). Once you learn how to handle the signs of possible relapse, you may be surprised to learn that you can avoid using substances again.
There are women-only substance use therapies and groups, which might be something you’re interested in. There are also mixed-gender groups, groups for new mothers, parenting classes, and other group therapies, which can also be helpful as you recover from substance use.
Women and men relapse for different reasons. Take steps to prevent a relapse from occurring today.
NIDA. (2020, July 10). Treatment and Recovery. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
Psych Central. (2012, October 15) Men vs. Women: Does Gender Matter in Addiction Recovery? Sack, D. M.D. from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/addiction-recovery/2012/10/gender-addiction-recovery/
NIAA. Gender and Use of Substance Abuse Treatment Services. At A Glance. Treatment Course and Outcomes. Green, A., Ph.D., M.P.H. from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh291/55-62.htm
Research Gate. Clinical Psychology Review. (2006) Gender differences in alcohol and substance use relapse. Wailtzer, K., Dearing, R. from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7358887_Gender_differences_in_alcohol_and_substance_use_relapse
SAMHSA. (2009) Substance Abuse Treatment: Addressing the Specific Need of Women. TIP 51. Figure 8-1. Women-Specific Predictors of Relapse and Reactions to Relapse. from https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma15-4426.pdf
PEW Trusts. Stateline. (2018, August 14) For Addicted Women, the Year After Childbirth Is the Deadliest. Vestal, C. from https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/08/14/for-addicted-women-the-year-after-childbirth-is-the-deadliest
NIDA. (2020, January 22). Substance Use in Women DrugFacts. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/substance-use-in-women