Even though we’ve come a long way toward accepting that addiction is a disease requiring professional treatment, we still haven’t done away with certain stigmas attached to it. One of them has to do with how we view women living with substance abuse compared to men who are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Addiction Stigma and College-Aged Women
In a recent survey conducted by AccessU at the University of Minnesota, 700 undergraduate students were asked about stigma and addiction. Female students reported feeling stigma around addiction more than men, whether they personally had an issue with substance abuse or not. Women who identified themselves as either having a problem with drug or alcohol abuse or being in recovery said the stigma was especially pronounced.
According to John Kelly, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, even though more men than women experience drug and alcohol addiction (by a ratio of three-to-one), women experience the stigma associated with substance abuse more harshly due to social taboos. He explains that it’s less socially acceptable for women to drink or use drugs, which means there is more of a stigma for women who seek help and go into recovery. Women who are addicted to drugs or alcohol may be thought of as “party girls,” whereas men are thought of as “troubled.”
Substance Abuse Stigma and Mothers
When women who have children get involved with drug or alcohol use, they come up against a level of stigmatization that men don’t experience. Their actions run contrary to societal expectations of female behavior. Women are generally expected to be caregivers and nurturers. Since it’s assumed they are more family-oriented than men, substance abuse is seen as a betrayal of their responsibility to their loved ones.
Women who use drugs while pregnant are considered even more repugnant. Some even decide that use of any medications during pregnancy is a type of moral failing. Women who are addicted and pregnant are often shamed, instead of encouraged to seek treatment.
Women Tend to Hide Drug or Alcohol Abuse
Since women traditionally have taken on the role of caregivers who keep the family organized, when they develop difficulties with substance abuse, often their first response is to keep the problem hidden. Women will often try to continue on as if things are normal for as long as possible.
A woman may not know where to seek help or not want to disrupt her family’s normal routines while she seeks addiction treatment. Women may also have concerns about whether they can safely go into treatment without being branded “bad” mothers.
Poverty as a Barrier to Addiction Recovery
Research has shown that female drug users who are on welfare are perceived in a negative way by others. Many people think “the system” is paying for these undeserving people to stay on drugs. They also feel drug use leads to poverty. In most instances, the circumstances leading to a particular woman receiving welfare benefits are more complex than simple cause-and-effect.
Female clients in the welfare system are prepared to take responsibility for themselves and their lives. The negative views from others contribute to their feelings of powerlessness and make them feel disrespected.
Finding Addiction Treatment Help for Women
English Mountain Recovery offers gender-specific substance abuse treatment for women. Our women’s treatment program is designed to meet the specific needs of our female clients to help them address a number of issues, including self-esteem, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and parenting concerns. In our residential program, clients can focus their complete attention on building the foundation for lasting recovery.