For those who only knew Whitney Houston’s voice, it might have come as a surprise to know that she died due to a drug overdose. Whitney Houston began her career in the early 80’s and continued to rise to singing stardom throughout the 90’s. When she died in 2012, she was known for being a beautiful actress, model, producer, and award-winning singer.
However, beneath the glory and glamour, she had a tumultuous relationship with her spouse and singer-songwriter, Bobby Brown, among other struggles. Perhaps for those reasons and more, she had a relationship with using various types of drugs. Although Whitney had a highly public life and perhaps different than most other women with substance abuse, she is an example of the growing population of women who are using drugs and developing addictions. In fact, women are the fastest growing segment for substance abuse in the United States.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 2.7 million women in the United States, 18 years or older, abuse drugs or alcohol. Sadly, of these women, a large percentage of them do not receive treatment because of various reasons. Many women typically avoid seeking treatment because of their social roles as mothers and nurturers. Seeking treatment would highlight the stigma of substance abuse in their families and communities. The shame that comes with admitting drug use often gets in the way of tending to their addiction, even if it becomes destructive. Other obstacles include:
- The fear of losing custody of their children.
- The fear of being away from their family.
- The limited resources available for women with children.
- The little collaboration among social service systems within the community.
- Lack of culturally congruent programming that might have Spanish-speaking counselors, for example.
- Few if no options for women who are pregnant.
- Seeing their addiction as an acceptable social activity versus an addiction.
- Believing that the addiction is a means to treat their depression or anxiety.
These are just a few differences in the struggle towards sober living for men and women. Also, many women don’t develop their addictions for the same reasons men do. If a woman in a high-powered job with three children and a spouse is feeling the stress of her many responsibilities, she might want to have a drink each evening and go out with her friends for martinis once a week. That level of drinking, for example, might easily grow and slowly turn into an addiction.
Other women might use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate or help regulate intense or uncomfortable emotions that stem from a distorted and unhealthy sense of self. Other women might attempt to achieve a certain body image that the media perpetually emphasizes as being ideal. As a result, in an attempt to lose weight, use diet aids that contain amphetamine and over time develop an addiction to amphetamines.
Furthermore, females who have been sexually or physically abused are more prone to developing an addiction. They might be unconsciously attempting to manage the intense feelings, such as powerlessness, that frequently accompany unresolved trauma. A woman might find escape in drinking or drug use from feelings such as shame, anger, resentment, hurt, or unworthiness. In 2002, Whitney Houston was interviewed by Diane Sawyer in which she admitted using various types of drugs including cocaine. However, aside from “stress” which she admitted to the media, many of the reasons behind her drug use remain unclear.
For the reasons listed above, the use of drugs and alcohol and finally reaching for sober living is a much different path for women than it is for men. Perhaps in the future, there will be more sober living homes, which cater to women only. In the meantime, females who are looking for sober help might find that seeking out a women’s sober living home is worth it. There, the specific needs of women can be tended to in a unique way. There, women might be able to achieve sober living easily, gracefully, and without relapse.
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