“There is no single point in a woman’s life when a discussion of substance use or abuse is not relevant. Each stage of life offers unique challenges that can lead to addiction. And each stage poses unique risks to the health and well-being of women who abuse substances.” ~ Women Under the Influence
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost 16 MILLION American women used illicit drugs within the past year. All there are more male substance abusers than female, women face gender-specific risks and challenges.
Women and Addiction by the Numbers
As it is elsewhere in the country, substance abuse in California is a real and growing problem, including among women:
- 1 out of every 8 women in California engages in risky binge-drinking.
- In San Francisco County, that number jumps to 1 out of every 5 women.
- 1999-2010, 48,000 women in the United States died because of prescription painkiller overdoses.
- 1999-2014, the number of white, middle-aged women killed because of opioid overdoses skyrocketed by 400%.
- In 2014 alone, opioid overdoses killed 702 women in California – the most in any state.
- To put that number in perspective, in 2001, there were only 134 female opioid-related deaths in California.
- At the exact same time that heroin use by US women has doubled, it is also on the rise across the board in Southern California.
- Methamphetamine use by women in Southern California is increasing. In 2014, half of all women in San Diego jails tested positive for meth.
- For comparison, less than a third tested positive for marijuana.
- In 2013, over 60 MILLION benzodiazepine prescriptions were written for American women – more than twice the number written for men.
What Are Some of the Barriers That Prevent Women from Seeking Treatment?
In addition to the normal difficulties faced by struggling substance abusers, women with addictive disorders face additional hurdles when it comes to getting help.
- FIRST, they must deal with the misplaced shame and embarrassment from not living up to the ideal image of a “perfect” wife and mother.
- SECOND, if they have small children, they may worry about losing custody if it becomes known that they are addicted to alcohol or drugs.
- THIRD, they may also worry that their relationship with their children will be irrevocably damaged if they go away for treatment.
- FOURTH, they may have a practical concern about who will care for their children while they are in rehab.
- FIFTH, female substance abusers are more likely to be victims. 90% of women in substance abuse treatment have been targets of intimate partner violence.
- SIXTH, Women who abuse alcohol or drugs have a higher incidence of co-occurring anxiety or mood disorders. In fact, women who have had a major depressive episode are 7 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
What Can Be Done to Help Substance-Abusing Women in Southern California?
Luckily, for each of these problems faced by a female alcoholics or drug addict, there is a solution. The first, most important available resource is a rehab facility that uses personalized service plans for every client. This means that help is available for the specific way the disease of addiction manifests itself in every individual.
Treatment should also be both integrative and comprehensive, meaning that virtually every needed service can be offered under one cooperative “umbrella”. Medical doctors, mental health professionals, nutritionists, specialized therapists, and every other member of the treatment team—from the interventionist to the aftercare staff—should be working as one unit.
Importantly, this should include specialized treatment for any medical conditions co-occurring with the addiction – anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc.
It can be hard for women with addictive disorders to balance their needs in recovery with the demands of the rest of their life, but in the end, every effort they make contributes to a successful and healthy return to their family.
Written by: Albert Fontenot