Women Struggling With Addiction: What Are Their Pathways To Sobriety?


It is the nightmare scenario that no woman wants to face - struggling to deal with her everyday life and family because of her addiction to alcohol or drugs, making bad lifestyle choices that are spiraling out of control. With studies having shown that women are finding it harder than men to beat substance abuse, and with opioid addiction, in particular, being on the rise, what can women do to get sober?


Why Do Women Struggle With Substance Abuse?


It is important to understand the distinct factors unique to females that can be triggers for their addictions.

Studies have shown that women develop medical or social consequences of addiction faster than men, often find it harder to quit, and are more susceptible to progression from use to dependence, and are more prone to relapse. This arises because of a number of factors, some medical and biological which are particular to the type of substance, others socioeconomic, including:



In the case of alcohol, women's body's processes alcohol at a far slower rate than a man. Women tend to weigh less than men, their bodies contain less water and have more fatty tissue, and because fat retains alcohol while water dilutes it, alcohol remains at higher concentrations for longer in a woman’s body, exposing her brain and other organs to more alcohol. In addition, they have lower levels of two enzymes, called alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase which are responsible for breaking down alcohol in the stomach and liver.

There has been a cultural shift towards women using alcohol to relax socially, so women are drinking more, and more frequently than they did in the past. In one survey from a survey of almost 18,000 college students across the U.S., about one in three female students engages in binge drinking (consuming four or more drinks in a row, often in quick succession). In context, 'moderate' drinking is defined as no more than seven drinks a week and no more than three on any given day



Women tend to suffer from chronic pain conditions more than men like fibromyalgia and are often more readily prescribed (and therefore more frequently exposed to the risk of addiction to) to powerful opioids which are extremely addictive substances. 

As prescription opioid use has soared over the past 2o years. Deaths linked to opioids have spiked, and since 1999, more than 71,800 women in the U.S. have died from prescription opioid overdoses, per the CDC. In addition. between 1999 and 2010, the death rate for prescription opioid overdoses increased 400% for women, compared with 237% for men.



There are many social and economic reasons why we have seen a sharp increase in substance abuse among women in the USA. They often relate to their having more life issues to juggle than men:

-         women are more likely to reside with and care for their children, and so have to overcome child care and child welfare issues. Society imposes greater judgment on mothers who suffer from substance abuse than fathers, and even when both parents are using, mothers often have their parental rights terminated before the man and lose custody of their children. This compounds their feelings of shame and guilt.


-         women are more often exposed to trauma-inducing situations that can trigger and drive substance abuse, such as domestic violence, sex abuse, incest and in general, are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression and anxiety both of which are serious are triggers for substance abuse


-         women with addiction problems often are stigmatized far more than males, which keeps them hiding their problems. Very often they fail to seek help from treatments centers, even though valuable online resources such as  https://addictiontosobriety.com/ can help them find the right treatment to meet their unique needs


How Large Is the Addiction Problem Among Women?

medical prescription drugs

Very large…and growing. Consider this shocking statistic per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA): women are one of the fastest-growing segments of drug users in the U.S. with an estimated 4.5 million women over the age of 12 years having a substance use disorder. In addition, 3.5 million women misuse prescription drugs, and 3.1 million regularly use illicit drugs. This costs more than 200,000 women their lives each year.

Every 3 minutes, a woman goes to the emergency room for prescription painkiller misuse or abuse (CDC Vital Signs 2013)

This leads to the question, as to what can be done to help women cope with this growing substance abuse problem?


Treatment Of Women’s Addictions; What Are The Major Pathways To Sobriety?


It is true to say that there is no ‘one size fits all” approach to addiction treatment for women or men, there is a need for open and equal acceptance about this problem that affects women and men.

In fact, many notable women from the media and the business world are now openly sharing their stories and are speaking up about addiction and recovery.

In May 2017, News anchor Elizabeth Vargas from TV's 20/20, joined other notables including Elena Brower, Marianne Williamson and Gabby Bernstein, when she recently headlined the She Recovers 3-day summit in New York City that hosted over 500 women in recovery who came from all over the world.

Elizabeth Vargas feels that self-care is a core pillar of her recovery from alcoholism, saying that “nobody else will make your self-care a priority,” – in other words, in recovery make sure that you look after yourself, be it bathing, meditating, catching extra sleep and exercising.

So it is clear that reducing the stigma that women feel about their addiction problems and being able to speak openly and honestly about it without judgment from society is the first essential element in their seeking treatment and helps to achieve sobriety.

Once there, aside from medical intervention, the psychological pathways to recovery include:

-  acceptance that recovery is not a one-time thing, it’s a long-term lifestyle choice to which you commit

-  learning from mistakes and knowing that will be setbacks, but that they are not fatal consequences t your recovery

-  taking small steps first, practice, as with each that is achieved the self-esteem will pay dividends

-   appreciation what you have and showing gratitude for the support you get

-  believing in your success and being excited about the end goal

-  flexibility as to the challenges that you face as you go through the process

“The mentality and behavior of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help, they have no hope.” – Russell Brand

There is no substitute for the support that women can get from the highly-trained multi-disciplinary staff of an addiction treatment center. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, please use the search resources referred to in this article to help find the one best suited to your needs for you in your area.