The Stigma Behind Women and Addiction: Breaking Free and Seeking Peace

Stigma of women in addiction recovery

Earlier this year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse announced that 19.5 million females within the United States have used illicit drugs in the past year. Through this research, scientists have also found that women undergo a variety of challenges that can complicate addiction and make treatment more challenging, such as:

  • Sex hormones can alter addiction and recovery processes in women
  • The amount, type of substance and body demographics (such as weight) can affect outcomes
  • The heart and blood vessels may be more heavily affected in women who battle addiction
  • The menstrual cycle, pregnancy and breastfeeding can cause different addiction and recovery dynamics
  • Women tend to undergo a number of reasons for abusing substances, such as weight control, fighting exhaustion, coping with pain, self-treating medical problems and more

With so many different factors influencing the way women use substances as well as how they recover, it’s sad to witness how many women become bombarded with stigma for substance abuse.

The Stigma on Women

Women’s Health Matters, a component of Women’s College Hospital in Canada, explains that women tend to get stigmatized for substance abuse more than men because of the “drinking culture” and “drug use culture” that are often associated with male activities. An unfortunate occurrence is women often having their femininity and sexuality attacked because substance abuse is viewed as more of a “male” concern – and because of this, many women feel shame.

A 2017 study published in the journal Fusio found that women face greater stigma before they use drugs, experience greater stigma as they use drugs and even deal with stigma as they’re recovering because many people still associate them as a “former drug user.” Previous studies have shown that stigma can have a negative impact on health as well as psychological wellbeing, and even strong bonds with friends and family members can have negative consequences for those in addiction recovery if they’re being stigmatized for their use. Labeling, stereotyping and discrimination are often found to be the most common types of stigmatization against women in this arena – and without intervention, it can become harder to pursue a life of recovery.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) denotes that despite the level of stigmatization that is cast on those in addiction recovery, that’s not the answer; greater support for treatment, however, is.

Helping Women in Recovery: What Needs to Change

Rather than shaming women who’ve battled substance abuse, we need to provide them with the support they need to seek treatment. It all begins with the way we have conversations about this, including the terms that we use to describe those in addiction recovery. Words such as “junkie,” “addict,” “alcoholic” and “tweaker” rarely help people feel uplifted to seek help – rather, they push people down further and instill a sense of guilt that only perpetuates negative feelings and emotions.

In addition, women in recovery need to pair up with addiction recovery treatment centers, such as Cumberland Heights, who care about individuals’ personal health and wellbeing. Utmost respect is not only desired but required for a person to flourish in recovery – and in seeking out a treatment center that supports this, women are more likely to thrive in healing and restoration. Lastly, our society needs to implement greater prevention strategies to let women know that it’s okay to seek help – rather than blaming and shaming them, more educational opportunities need to be made available so that women know signs that they need to seek help if it’s needed.

Several years ago, Harvard Health announced from a study that because women are stigmatized quicker than men, they’re more likely to experience difficulties moving forward with treatment; these gender differences can affect how, when and why a person seeks help, and this presents a huge concern for supporting women in addiction recovery.

Breaking Free and Healing in Recovery

The NIDA highlights that not only do women face different circumstances than men regarding how addiction plays out and how stigmatization is experienced, but women also may battle various issues that could further take them away from healing, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), domestic violence, mental illness, household responsibilities, work obligations and more.

Holistically, women need services that will provide them with a range of support, depending on their needs. Charlotte Bronte, an English novelist and poet, described the necessities of recovery so beautifully by once stating:

“I avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.”

If you are a woman who’s battled with substance abuse, speak with a professional from Cumberland Heights today. You’re not alone – and instead of being stigmatized, you’ll be greeted with love and support and you work through your journey to recovery.

Cumberland Heights is a nonprofit alcohol and drug addiction treatment center located on the banks of the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tennessee. On a sprawling 177-acre campus, we are made up of two 12-Step immersion campuses, 12 outpatient recovery centers and 4 sober living homes. We believe that each person has a unique story to tell – and that’s why we always put the patient first. For more information, call 1-800-646-9998 today.