Doctors Researching Addiction Treatment

Unique Psychological Issues, Need for Child Care Complicate Addiction Treatment for Women

In medical studies, women have traditionally been left out. It is only in recent decades that researchers have recognized that women react differently to medications and treatments, that they have different life circumstances and different needs that affect outcomes. Recent studies are looking at how women respond to addiction treatment and how their unique needs must be discovered and acknowledged.

Women and Abuse

While men and women struggling with substance abuse have much in common, they come to treatment programs with distinctly different experiences. One study found that among 400 women being treated for heroin addiction in a methadone clinic, 58 percent had been victims of sexual abuse as children. Ninety percent of the women had experienced domestic violence, with 78 percent of them experiencing such abuse in the last six months. Nearly a third of the women in treatment were able to meet the criteria for being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Clearly abuse and trauma are risk factors for substance abuse and addiction, and women are particularly vulnerable to both. Past abuse causes psychological issues that need to be addressed for addiction treatment to be successful.

Women and Family

Women are also more likely than men to come to treatment with difficult family situations. In addition to the experiences of domestic violence, many women are single mothers coping with the demands of raising children alone. This complicates treatment for addiction. On the most basic level, being a single mother often means that a woman may not get treatment at all. She cannot be in two places at once and may not have someone to care for her children.

Hispanic Women and Addiction Treatment

All women share certain commonalities when it comes to addiction and treatment, but statistics show that Hispanic women face greater barriers to care. They are less likely than white women to get necessary treatment, and the care they do get is generally of lower quality. Hispanic women are more likely to receive care from smaller treatment programs that offer fewer services. To get better care to Hispanic women, these treatment facilities need better funding. Funding would provide higher quality services and would provide for the hiring of culturally sensitive and bilingual employees.

The Need for Comprehensive Services

As treatment programs for substance abuse continue to evolve and change to meet the needs of all people struggling with addiction, wrap-around or comprehensive service programs are becoming more common. These are plans that include multiple aspects of care and that do more than take a narrow view of treating the disease of addiction. For women, they include services targeted specifically at their needs, such as mental health care for those who have experienced abuse or are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or other psychological issues.

Even when treatment programs are targeted to women and their specific needs, they can still fail. The demands of the outside world, such as the needs of the family, tend to fall more on women, which can be a barrier to getting treatment. As researchers learn more about how women respond to treatment, the experiences they carry with them and the ways in which real-life demands keep them from getting help, they are better able to craft and propose funding for programs that can make a difference.

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