Substance use disorder (SUD), like all other medical illnesses, is unique to the patient. That’s why our team at Wellbridge focuses our treatment plans around the individual patient, or patient-centric care, to ensure that each patient’s specific needs, past traumas and desired outcomes are at the center of their care. Part of this is recognizing the role that gender-identification plays in substance use. This article aims to showcase the importance of recognizing gender in substance use treatment for women and how treatment plans can and should recognize women-specific traumas in the path to addiction and barriers to treatment.
While each individual brings their own history and goals to treatment for SUD, trends can and have been identified among subset populations that should be addressed during substance use treatment. When it comes to substance use treatment for women, understanding the role that societal pressures play in the path to addiction, as well as barriers to treatment, is an important part of the road to recovery.
Women, arguably, deal with a variety of conflicting societal pressures that leave them feeling as though they aren’t good enough, aren’t doing enough and/or aren’t being enough. Society places pressures on women’s life path choices, mothering ability, physical appearance and social status.
Society pressures women to be the “do it all” career woman but also the stay-at-home PTA mom. If a woman is a successful career woman, half of society is questioning if she is a good mom because she isn’t home with her kids. If a woman chooses to be a stay-at-home mom, half of society is deeming her detrimental to women’s rights and questioning if she wants more out of life. These societal pressures often leave women feeling inadequate and alone – despite the fact that many other women are feeling the same way.
The “do it all” facet of the different roles expected of women also leads to increased social drinking – events, meetings and other social and professional settings where drinking is not only accepted, but encouraged, in order to connect with others.
Understanding that women feel these pressures daily, and working with female-identifying patients to understand how these pressures have impacted their substance use can lead to valuable conversations that not only heal past traumas but also prepare them for dealing with these pressures in a healthy way post-treatment.
It’s also important for professionals working with female-identifying patients to understand how societal pressures can play a role in women avoiding or putting off substance use treatment.
More often than not, women act as the primary caregiver in their households. This pressure to take care of others first often creates a barrier for them to seek out treatment and, instead, go to PTA meetings instead of support meetings, put being at home before seeking out inpatient rehabilitation. Many women that I’ve worked with have indicated that seeking out advanced treatment for SUD has made them feel like a bad mom for leaving their children.
So how does our industry as a whole remove the guilt and stigma? How do we remove these barriers and help women realize that by seeking out treatment they are brave and being the best mom, wife, friend and coworker that they can be?
Wellbridge is focused on patient-centric care. Meaning that understanding the differences in how individuals and populations experience addiction is at the forefront of our care. In practice, this looks like catering treatment to address specific trends that we see among various populations, including in substance use treatment for women.
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 have a patient who is struggling with increased substance us, reach out to Wellbridge to discuss treatment options and learn more about working with your patient to overcome barriers to getting the treatment they not only need, but deserve.