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Addiction is addiction – doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman, right? Wrong, very wrong.

Women are the fastest growing segment of substance abusers in the country. Women who abuse alcohol and drugs endure greater stigma and isolation from family, friends, and outside connections than their male counterparts. Why? Because they are typically thought of as nurturers, caretakers, wives, mothers, daughters, and sexual partners. Social attitudes and double standards create a different set of expectations for a woman’s behavior.

And, there is much proof that women who abuse alcohol and other substances face greater risks to their health than men. Evidence shows that women become addicted faster and suffer the consequences and permanent damage of abuse-related illnesses earlier in the course of the disease than men. They are more likely to be sexually assaulted and more likely to have unplanned pregnancies. Their babies are more likely to have birth defects and are more likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The good news is there are treatment programs for women where clinicians understand that women suffer addiction differently than men. Until only a few years ago, very little research was done around the special needs of women seeking recovery. Research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that women recovering in an environment created just for women remain in treatment longer, achieve better abstinence rates and are more than twice as likely to complete treatment. It is critical to create and feel a strong sense of safety in being in an environment of only women. Women must be free to express feelings about the guilt and shame of their behaviors. This is particularly true for those women who are victims of trauma such as sexual abuse or domestic violence.


Marlene Passell –


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