There is a long history of women in recovery, much of it unknown. Yet, what is clear is that there is a great deal of secrecy surrounding women alcoholics and addicts. In the past, that secrecy has gotten in the way of women getting the treatment they need and continues to be an obstacle to treatment today.
Throughout history, women leaders have worked towards breaking that cycle of silence and shame by creating recovery centers for women. For instance, one of the first facilities of sober living for women was established in New York’s Inebriate Asylum during 1864 where 400 of the first 4,000 of the applicants were female. Other early centers for women’s sobriety included the Water Street Mission in New York City in 1872 and the Christian Home for Intemperate Women.
Shame and guilt is and has been one of the biggest obstacles to treatment for women for too long. Recognizing this fact, H. Westley Clark, the Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (SAMHSA), said, “When we look at our data, we find that 6.9 million women are needing but not receiving treatment.” And what’s worse, 94% of those women felt that they did not even need treatment, nor be entered into sober living for women.
For this reason, researchers in the drug counseling and mental health fields are investigating the causes of women’s barriers to treatment, related to shame and guilt. One study explored the influence of hormones on women’s bodies, brain chemistry, and mood.
What they’ve found is that when a woman’s menstrual cycle begins, she might be more prone to depression. The release of estrogen and other ovarian hormones interacts with neurotransmitters and can lead to depression in women. Estrogen affects a women’s sense of well-being, memory, and the release of endorphins. The prevalence of depression in women is one in four, compared to one in ten for men.
When a woman’s hormones change, it can trigger old memories, strong emotions such as anger, and reminders of relational business that was left unfinished. Add to this the physical pain that sometimes comes with a woman’s pre-menstrual cycle. All of this leaves a woman vulnerable to reaching for alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. What’s significant about this is that the premenstrual cycle could be so severe for some women that the use of drugs and alcohol is their only way to manage the symptoms. As one woman put it, “My greatest fear is that there is no PMS and this is my personality!”
As a result of this research and the significant influence of hormone shifts and PMS on women, experts have begun to include specific female-focused tools in the process of recovery. Examples of these are:
- A premenstrual daily symptoms chart.
- Documenting triggers for relapse.
- Documenting cravings for drugs and alcohol.
- Charting patterns of behavior and emotions.
- Documenting the menstruation cycle.
- Psycho-education on the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual changes that occur with monthly cycles.
- Relapse prevention planning through nutrition counseling, exercise, meditation, therapy, women’s support groups, and connecting to the 12-step model.
Experts suggest that women who recognize that their menstrual cycle has contributed their addiction recommend that they learn about their cycles, talk about their cycles with other women at AA and NA meetings, exercise, keep track of their monthly cycle, and learn about proper nutrition.
The influence of hormones and the menstruation cycle on addiction and recovery is not a topic well discussed. And some women might not even consider this as a possible contributor to an addiction. Certainly, as mentioned above, many women do not even recognize that they have an addiction that warrants treatment or help at sober living for women only.
The fact that this topic is not well known in the drug counseling field reflects the shame and silence that continues to exist for women with addiction. It’s true that addiction has long been a “man’s” disease.
Today we are learning that it’s not just men, but women too, who not only need help with getting sober, but they need help with getting into treatment in the first place.
Provost, J. Women and Addiction Recovery & Hormonal Shifts. Women, Children, and Families at SAMSHA. Retrieved on June 18, 2014 from: http://womenandchildren.treatment.org/
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