The Unique Journey of Women in Addiction Recovery

May 7, 2024

The impact of substance abuse can be monumental, no matter your background, age, race, or gender. But that doesn’t mean that everyone will experience addiction and addiction recovery in the same way. A woman’s addiction recovery may entail a different set of struggles than their male counterparts. Gender differences play a role in how an individual responds to treatment and copes with the transition of giving up drugs or alcohol.

This is why many addiction recovery centers offer gender-specific treatment options. Your experience with addiction may vary in severity and is influenced by many variables, including your personality, how your body handles substances, personal circumstances, and societal expectations. These elements naturally look different for men and women.

Women in Addiction


Drug and Alcohol Addiction in Women

Dealing with substance abuse can feel like a monster has hijacked your body and mind. It affects you psychologically, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. A hit to all those aspects at once can feel like too much to bear, leading to depression, anxiety disorders, and emotional trauma. This often causes a vicious cycle of using drugs or alcohol to cope.

Women’s hormones, gender roles, and societal pressures usually affect how addiction develops and progresses in the body. In addition, women often feel more pressure to hide their addictions because of the heightened stigma around women with addictions, preventing them from seeking help.

Men and women respond physiologically differently to substances in the body. Sex hormones can heighten sensitivities to drugs and alcohol, leading to differing neurological and cardiovascular effects. Substance abuse disorder can bring on a whole different set of health issues for women connected to menstrual cycles, pregnancy, breastfeeding, hormones, fertility, and menopause.

Women in the throes of addiction may also face triggers specific to their gender. These might be social pressures, stigmas, family disappointment, and relationship complexities. Women also tend to face triggers related to their self-esteem more often than men.

Body image. Eating disorders. Past traumas. Sexual abuse. These are all more common among women and add another layer of heartbreak, pain, and difficulty to the addiction recovery process.

Common Challenges Specific to Women in Addiction Recovery

We commend any woman who seeks out addiction recovery. While every woman is different, there are some common challenges that make the road to sobriety more challenging. It is helpful going into the addiction recovery process to understand what these challenges are. That way, you won’t feel like a failure when you encounter them; you’ll understand that these are normal parts of the process. Knowing what these specific challenges are can also help you prepare to meet them with strength.

1. Increased Vulnerability to Substances

Men and women have very different metabolisms, so they process and break down substances differently. Biologically, women usually have fewer enzymes to break substances down. Also, regardless of their weight, women usually have a higher ratio of body fat, meaning substances often linger longer in the body and detract more significantly from health and well-being. This biological vulnerability can lead to increased physical and mental health symptoms and accelerate an addiction.

Because women often have an increased risk for developing addiction, it is ever so important to seek help early on and even join women’s support groups. These groups can provide you with a network of people who know what you’re going through. They can help you kick the addiction early on and help hold you accountable.

2. The Social Stigma

Women tend to carry the world’s weight on their shoulders and often care more than men about how they’re perceived. It’s hard for women to come to terms with their addiction and admit that it’s a problem because of the constant societal pressures and expectations women face in society. The stigma may prevent women from seeking help. The potential for judgment and disapproval from others can often be the scariest part of getting help through a woman’s rehab center. This can be especially hard for mothers (or expecting mothers) who are torn between wanting to live up to all that is expected of them in their maternal role and what they need to do to get help for themselves.

3. Underlying Disorders

Women who have a substance use disorder have a higher chance of having an underlying health issue as well. Underlying disorders such as anxiety, depression, or more severe psychological problems like PTSD, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders often coexist with addiction in women, adding complexities and difficulties to the recovery process.

Abusing drugs or alcohol can exacerbate these mental health disorders or even trigger them. Substances may also serve as a coping mechanism for underlying disorders among women, creating a harmful habit that can accelerate both the addiction and the underlying health issues.

4. Downplaying Their Addiction

Women are often superheroes who juggle dozens of different balls every day. They may be so busy keeping everything in motion for others that they disregard the warning signs of their problem or underestimate the difficulty of beating it all on their own. This may also be a result of the fear and shame they associate with their substance abuse. A combination of these often leads women to overlook the severity of their problem or continually deny they have a problem at all.

The stigma and fear may lead women to rationalize their actions, brush them off, and label them as temporary or stress-induced. Dismissing the early signs can have harsh consequences. The addiction will get worse and worse and even impose serious health risks such as heart disease, liver damage, brain damage, breast cancer, and disturbances to reproductive health.

5. Higher Relapse Risk

Women have a higher chance of relapse than men because of their unique challenges. The most brutal relapse triggers for women are often negative emotions. The emotional complexities of a woman’s mind, the experience of addiction, and the varied responsibilities most women have can magnify the risk of relapse.

For this reason, women must address their emotional triggers during recovery so they can better face them post-recovery and hold firm to their sobriety. Working with a therapist in rehab to help you regulate your emotions and employ healthy coping mechanisms is one way to set yourself up for long-lasting sobriety.

Addiction recovery for women requires specific treatment plans to aid women as they seek to recover and thrive. At Renaissance Ranch, we have gender-specific treatment options for our female superstars. Taking the first step toward your recovery is often the hardest, but once you take that first step, we’ll be by your side for every step after. Call us today to learn more about our women’s addiction recovery programs in Idaho.