March is National Women’s History Month,
when we honor the many past and present achievements of women and the vast strides they have made in all facets of American life.
On behalf and in honor of women, know that tremendous progress has been made in how women with substance use disorders (SUDs) are diagnosed and treated. It is especially important to know that what’s recognized and incorporated into our care of women with addiction is the fact that we now know that women face unique issues with these disorders.
We know, for example, that these issues are greatly influenced by sex (based on biology) and gender (differences based on culturally defined roles), and that effective treatment of women with addiction has to include an understanding of and sensitivity to these influences.
Regarding the former, we know that through recent and ongoing research women use and react to substances differently than men. Whereas for example, women may use smaller amounts of alcohol and other drugs than men, they also can experience the effects more strongly. Research also has demonstrated that substance use in women can develop into addiction faster than in men. Too, that brain changes in women who use drugs can be different from those men experience. And that women have distinctive reasons for using drugs, including controlling weight, eliminating exhaustion, coping with pain, and self-treating mental health problems.
We also no longer underestimate the substantial difficulty women face
in acknowledging that they have an addiction. Women are challenged by images entrenched in our culture of a drug-dependent female as someone who has failed to live up to being a responsible person or mother. Such stigmatization generates guilt and shame and results in women in our male-dominated environment being reluctant to disclose their alcohol or drug problem and any negative behaviors associated with it.
In effectively treating women with addiction, we now realize that women are more likely than men to experience ongoing traumatization that originated as early as childhood, and consequently, suffer from co-morbid post-traumatic stress disorder (aka PTSD). Accompanying such a disorder can be severe problems for women such as the inability to moderate anger and experience intimacy and trust, among others.
Because of such factors, care and treatment of women with SUDs can progress differently than for men. Tully Hill realizes that gender-specific groups are a key component of effectively influencing women’s progress in treatment, and has group therapies exclusively for women to help them develop emotionally and achieve their treatment goals.
Our women-specific group therapies provide the following benefits:
❖ They provide a safe, nurturing, nonjudgmental environment for women to heal and support each other, acknowledge trauma, and share experiences
❖ They allow women to explore the connection between addictive behaviors and past and present emotional and/or physical trauma
❖ They help build trust and intimacy with peers, all other patients, and group leaders
❖ They allow for peer feedback that can inspire women to begin to be honest with themselves and start acknowledging the root causes of their addiction
Not just during Women’s National History Month but each day of every month, we must continue to work to remove the many barriers confronting women who have substance use disorders, and ensure that their care and treatment effectively addresses the issues unique to them.