Women’s Alcohol Treatment
Although men consume more alcohol and experience and cause more alcohol-related incidents than women, gender gaps are evidently narrowing. Perhaps surprisingly, among adolescents and emerging adults, females are now more likely to report drinking and getting drunk in the past month than their male peers.1
In fact, research has established that there are significant gender differences related to alcohol abuse both in terms of drinking patterns and health consequences.2 The reasons for this include a wide range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural differences.
While women’s alcohol treatment may not differ in its content from alcohol treatment designed for men,treatment centers may offer separate groups for women and men. This difference in the group environment tends to serve the purpose of creating a safe and comfortable environment for individuals with history of rape or other trauma to share their experiences with the same gender.
Another gender-specific situation that determines the nature of treatment is pregnancy, which is why there are special addiction programs for pregnant women.
Why Women Abuse Alcohol
Research has found that there is a strong relationship between psychological and social issues affecting women and the likelihood that they will develop alcohol use disorder (AUD). These are some common predictors of AUD in women:3
- Women who have been physically or sexually traumatized or experienced interpersonal violence are more susceptible to substance abuse.
- Family history and relationships play key roles in the initiation, pattern of use, and continuation of substance abuse for women. Women with alcohol use disorders are more likely than men to report having alcoholism among family members.
- Issues surrounding sexual orientation seem to be a risk factor for female adolescents and adult women. This holds true for men as well.
- Psychological issues such as anxiety and depression are positively correlated with women’s substance use, abuse, and dependence.
Women’s alcohol treatment takes these gender-related facts into account and helps the patient overcome the issues that have led to alcohol abuse.
How Does Alcohol Affect a Woman’s Body?
Since men and women are biologically different, health consequences of AUD also tend to be different. Some of the most common alcohol-related health risks in women are:2
- Liver inflammation. Due to higher blood concentrations of alcohol, women who drink are more likely to develop liver inflammation than men.
- Heart disease. Women are more susceptible to alcohol-related heart disease than men.
- Lasting changes to the brain. Alcohol misuse seems to affect psychological functions more quickly in women than men. In fact, alcoholism may disrupt brain development (the frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until an average age of 27-28 years old), causing deficits in cognitive functioning, often with long-term consequences.4
- Breast cancer. Women who have about one drink per day have an increased chance of developing breast cancer compared to women who do not drink at all.
- Fetal development. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy may cause physical, cognitive, and behavioral problems in children; there is also an increased risk of preterm labor.
What Is Women-Focused Alcohol Treatment?
One of the key advantages of women’s alcohol treatment programs is that they are designed in such a way to attract women to seek treatment earlier. Many women feel more comfortable in women-only environments, especially the ones who have experienced abuse or violence by men.
Surveys have shown that clients in a specialized women’s rehab program were more likely to have dependent children, be lesbian, or have suffered sexual abuse in childhood than women in other programs.
Women generally benefit from supportive therapies, which means that warmth, empathy, and trust are of vital importance. An effective women’s alcohol treatment usually involves developing relationship building and parenting skills to help the person create a healthier social environment and lower the risk of relapse.
Women’s alcohol treatment should also take into consideration co-occurring disorders, such as mental issues or eating disorders, which often tend to be related with substance abuse in women.5
Frequently Asked Questions
Women who consume alcohol tend to progress faster in developing AUD than men.6 Many women become intoxicated after drinking smaller quantities of alcohol than their male counterparts. The reason for this is biological: due to smaller body mass and greater body fat, women have less body water to dilute alcohol, which results in higher blood alcohol concentrations.
As a result, females are more susceptible to alcohol-induced memory blackouts and hangovers. For the same reason, alcohol-related health issues tend to progress faster in women, some of which include liver inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers.7
Additional gender-related risks include unprotected sex, resulting in pregnancy or disease,and an increased risk of becoming a victim of violence and sexual assaults.8
Women’s inpatient treatment programs provide a safe and supportive environment for detoxification and rehabilitation. The advantage of inpatient treatment programs is that they make it possible for the person to be free from distractions and move away from the situations which have contributed to alcohol abuse.
Even when they acknowledge that they need professional help in overcoming addiction, women often face certain barriers, which are not only economical:9
- Denial of the drinking problem. Women will more often perceive that the problem is elsewhere and that drinking is just a coping strategy to deal with issues such as poor relationships or loneliness.
- Women are more reluctant than men to be labelled as “alcoholic” as the social stigma associated with alcohol abuse is greater for women than for men.
- Women generally have less support from their families or partners for seeking treatment than men.10
- There are also some legal issues involved. Since women are typically caregivers, many of them tend to fear mandatory involvement with child protective services, loss of child custody, or other legal consequences if their substance abuse becomes known.
This reluctance to start treatment results in the fact that women exhibit more severity of and problems related to substance use upon entering substance abuse treatment, including medical and psychological problems.11
Women’s alcohol problems can be more efficiently prevented and treated in the following ways:
- By informing and alerting the general public about the causes, symptoms, health risks, and importance of appropriate treatment.
- By educating professionals who work with women within the medical, educational, legal, and social service system. This would improve the screening and identification of women who already have issues with alcohol and need treatment or are at a higher risk.
- By increasing the availability of women-sensitive services that address gender-specific problems and treatment issues and that consider women’s social contexts.12
2. Gomberg, E.S. (1993). Women and alcohol: use and abuse. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 181(4): 211-9.
3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use.
4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Women and Alcohol.
5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. (2013). Substance Abuse Treatment: Addressing the Specific Needs of Women.
6. White, M. A. (2020). Gender Differences in the Epidemiology of Alcohol Use and Related Harms in the United States. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, Vol 40 (2).