Men and women experience most of life differently – and substance use disorder (SUD), or addiction, follows that same trend. In my experience working with those diagnosed with SUD at Wellbridge, there are evident differences in how women experience SUD and seek treatment, as well as how treatment can be altered to better support recovery for women.
Every individual’s “path to addiction” is different – with different triggers, genetic influence and environmental factors. However, when you look at the big picture, you can identify certain trends and common triggers.
One of the largest drivers in the way women and men experience addiction is the societal expectations placed onto women – such as caregiver roles, the “perfect” homemaker, pressure to be a strong career woman, etc… Society has a lot to say about who women should be and how they should get there. These expectations can become incredibly isolating and stressful for women and, sometimes, can lead to increased substance use.
Society’s pressures to “do it all” also lead women to multiple areas of life where social drinking is not just acceptable, but encouraged, to connect with other women. “Wine moms” having a glass of wine at PTA meetings or fundraisers, having a white claw with other moms at soccer games, or having a drink after work to fit in with the “boys club” all have dangerous consequences disguised by the opportunity to connect with others.
Additionally, these societal expectations play a role in women avoiding or putting off getting help when needed for addiction. When acting as the primary caregiver to others, such as children or older family members, the pressure to take care of others first – put their needs before your own – can make it harder to seek out support needed.
On top of this, women tend to be the primary decision makers when it comes to healthcare. More often than not, women have been self-admitting to Wellbridge for addiction treatment – which requires a massive amount of strength, self-awareness and resilience. But this, in turn, causes internal distress. “Should I be leaving my kids?” “Will I be considered unreliable at work?” “Will everything run smoothly until I get home?”
At Wellbridge, we understand that the way women and men experience addiction – from beginning to sobriety – is different. One is not more difficult or greater as a whole than the other, just different. And therefore, we’ve worked to cater treatment to specific trends that we see among those who identify as female.
Topics such as interpersonal regulation and distress tolerance have been integrated into women-focused group therapy sessions at Wellbridge to help our patients better manage the internal distress that is felt when seeking treatment.
We also put a focus on supporting the relationships that women have built with other peers in treatment, reinforcing the message of healthy fellowship and sober supports. Our gender-specific groups that we facilitate, such as Seeking Safety, are also opportunities that help women enhance those connections while also processing past trauma in a safe space. These groups show our women attendees that they are not alone in their experience, shifting the isolating perspectives that they may have had pre-treatment.
If you are struggling with addiction, it is okay to ask for help. In fact, it’s a sign of strength and growth. As a woman, I know that it can feel like the world is balancing on your shoulders, but much like the oxygen mask on an airplane, you have to put your health at the forefront of you priorities – you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.
Reach out to Wellbridge to discuss treatment options and learn more about our women-focused groups. Start your journey to sobriety today.