The Addicted Woman: The Gender Gap in Substance Abuse

According to Harvard Medical Publications, 7 to 12% of women in the United States abuse alcohol compared to 20% of men[1]. Though the average 10.5% differentiation between male and female alcoholics sounds like a win for the treatment of female substance abusers, women are both less likely to receive drug and alcohol treatment and more likely to develop medical and social consequences from substance abuse.

Fatal overdoses, chronic relapse, and long-term medical diagnoses are an ever increasing consequence of the public’s lack of knowledge regarding the severity of substance abuse. The fault lies not in the hands of the public, but in the hands of drug and alcohol treatment centers collectively.

As the Director of Marketing at New Method Wellness, a substance abuse treatment center located in Orange County, California, I have observed a lack of digital communication from business to consumer in the addiction industry. With the surge of social media marketing and digital branding, the substance abuse field has fallen far behind with educating this massive social audience about the dangers of substance abuse, especially among women and teens.

In this substantially researched post, I have collected statistics from 1984 to present day from reliable sources such as: the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Harvard Medical Publications as mentioned above, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), and more.

With the help of these nationally renowned resources, I plan to provide a holistic view of the ‘Addicted Woman’ so that together we can eliminate the stigma surrounding female substance abusers and develop an understanding of the signs of alcoholism as to promote a larger percentage of female drug and alcohol treatment. Together, we can.

The addicted woman: what does she look like?

Unless you have personally witnessed a loved one suffer from substance abuse, it is extremely difficult to articulate the characteristics of an alcoholic or an addict.

I certainly held a preconceived notion of the alcoholic: the woman outside of 7-Eleven with a brown paper bag asking for spare change.

Alcoholism and addiction is not a black and white disease and alcoholics and addicts come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They are PTA mothers, Rolex-wearing business women, collegiate athletes, and PhD candidates. They can have two houses, a Mercedes, and two children in college prep school, or they can have nothing. No two alcoholics and addicts have the same story.

Though our client profiles at New Method Wellness are vast, handfuls of our female clients are mothers, professionals, and students with high levels of functioning. 

Contrary to popular belief, alcoholism and addiction are rarely obvious to identify. Due to women’s rapid conversion from social drinker to alcoholic[2], the substance abuse problem may seem to appear out of thin air, causing loved ones to question whether their drinking or using is just ‘a phase.’

The addicted woman: how does she drink?

Women are more likely to use alcohol or drugs in response to an emotional trigger, which can mask their substance abuse problem.

Mood disorders (anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder) are much higher in women than in men,[3] which can often contribute to misuse of substances. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 30% of individuals living with a mental health issues also exemplify an abuse of substances[4].

As evident in the NAMI statistic, not all women with a behavioral or mood disorder suffer from substance abuse. However, substance abuse can evoke behavior similar to that of a mood or behavioral disorder.

Fortunately, research has been conducted regarding the physical signs of alcoholism and addiction. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD)[5], the symptoms of alcoholism are as follows:

·         Blackouts or memory loss

·         Frequent arguments with loved ones

·         Mood swings

·         Continued use of alcohol to cope with emotional problems

·         Flushed skin or puffiness in the face

·         Hidden bottles of alcohol in unexpected places

The signs of addiction are as follows:

·         Isolation, more specifically neglecting responsibilities and family

·         Risky behavior

·         Complaints from co-workers, teachers, classmates, partners

·         Severe changes in hygiene or physical appearance

·         Visible signs of withdrawal: shakiness, depression, irritability, fatigue

The addicted woman: how can you help her?

If you know someone that is suffering from substance abuse, you may feel helpless as you watch the serpent that is addiction slither into various aspects of their life, causing conflict and catastrophe.

Though it is impossible to coerce an individual to attain sobriety, you are not helpless.

Armed with the knowledge of alcoholism and addiction, you are a powerful source. You are a source of compassion and acceptance. You have the power to help me, and us at New Method Wellness, to eliminate the stigma surrounding alcoholism and addiction in the female population.

At New Method Wellness, 50% of our therapists are female and 50% are male, and we have an equal number of men and women amongst our staff. But, over the past 6 months only 33% of our clients were female, 66% of our clients were male, and the remaining 1% were gender unidentified.

With the gap of substance abuse between men and women quickly closing, we want to see more women seeking drug and alcohol treatment. We want to help more women.

If your loved one is suffering from alcoholism or addiction, let them know they are not judged. Certainly not by us, 90% of our staff is in recovery; combined, our staff has nearly 300 years of sobriety!

You can call our 24 hour hotline at 866-951-1824 to speak with an intake coordinator to discuss your concerns, needs, and next steps.

Remember, ‘I’ can’t, but together we can.

 

References

[1] "Addiction in Women - Harvard Health." Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

[2] "Women, Girls, Families, and Substance Abuse." The White House. Office of National Drug Control Policy, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

[3] Greenfield, Shelly F., Sudie E. Back, Katie Lawson, and Kathleen T. Brady. "Substance Abuse in Women." The Psychiatric Clinics of North America. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

[4] "Dual Diagnosis." NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

[5] "Signs and Symptoms." NCADD. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.