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Bridging the Gender Gap of Addiction Treatment Options

Bridging the Gender Gap of Addiction Treatment Options

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Substance abuse and addiction are devastating for anyone, but the journey of recovery can be a particularly difficult one for women. Women are much more likely than men to face a multitude of barriers when trying to get access to treatment. In fact, women are far less likely than men to even seek treatment when necessary.  Despite the fact that women tend to develop substance abuse problems faster than men, many are not so fast to receive the quality care they deserve. So why is there a gender gap in addiction treatment options for women?

Unique Struggles in Addiction Create Gender Gap in Recovery

There are a number of factors that contribute to the unique experience of women with substance abuse. Many of these distinctive struggles translate into new obstacles in addiction recovery. Some of these are biological, while others are behavioral and

Development of addiction

According to the National Institutes of Health, when women develop substance abuse problems, it tends to happen faster than when men do. Even though women are less likely to abuse illicit drugs and develop substance abuse issues when they do things often get much worse much quicker than they would with men. When women develop substance abuse, they report more problems of greater severity and experience more health-related consequences.

Experts point to studies that indicate women actually experience cravings more intensely than men when it comes to specific substances.

Giving Birth and Caregiving

Other unique obstacles for women trying to recover from addiction are the pressures of caregiving. Mothers are less likely to seek help for addiction because they don’t want to be separated from their children.

According to the NIAAA, women are more likely than men to have difficulty attending regular treatment sessions because of family responsibilities. Additionally, the first year after giving birth can be the deadliest year for new mothers struggling with addiction. According to research, overdose death among women peak in the 7-12 months after giving birth. Sadly, there are very limited resources for helping women with addiction after having their child.

Overdose Deaths

Part of this problem has been created by the ongoing opioid epidemic in America. Over the last several years, countless families across the country have lost a loved one to opioid overdose. While men are still more likely to suffer an overdose than women, that gender gap may be closing fast. In some areas, the number of women dying from drug overdoses doubled or even tripled in the last decade.

Growing Incarceration Rates

One gender gap that we do know is closing is the incarceration rates across the country. Women have become the fastest-growing correctional population in the country. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

  • 1978- there were 12,746 female inmates
  • 2016- over 111,422 female inmates

This holds weight in recovery for women because a lot of inmates are struggling with mental health and substance use disorders. Sadly, many do not receive adequate care while incarcerated.

Finances and Comprehensive Services

Women are statistically more likely than men to experience economic barriers to receiving the same effective treatment opportunities. There are also certain resources people receive that tend to reduce relapse following treatment, such as:

  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Education
  • Income support

While this is extremely beneficial for both men and women, there are many more women who actually need such services.


A huge barrier for anyone trying to get help with addiction treatment is the stigma attached to drug use. Because of the way people commonly perceive substance use disorder, people are not so quick to admit they need help. However, women are more likely to report feeling shame or embarrassment because they are getting treatment for substance use disorder.

Co-Occurring Disorders

When it comes to women, mental health and co-occurring disorders frequently play a large role in substance abuse and the recovery process. Anxiety or depressive disorders tend to be more prevalent and severe among women, and this can also add to the gender gap of access to comprehensive treatment options. It is extremely important for women with Co-occurring disorders to have dual diagnosis treatment options.

Trauma and Abuse

Experts in treating women with addiction believe that the most significant difference between men and women is the impact of trauma. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), up to 80% of women seeking treatment have a history of sexual or physical abuse or both.

To be clear, men definitely experience trauma as well. However, research shows that this is a critical factor for women when it comes to the risk of addiction and effectiveness of treatment. Our Trauma Resolution Program is an effective and un-intrusive tool for helping women overcome these very personal, underlying issues.

The Need for Women’s Treatment

While it is true that women’s access to treatment appears to have improved over the last decade or more, studies still find fewer admissions to substance abuse treatment programs among women. Various barriers experienced by women may influence where women seek help. It can also determine whether they seek it from a health professional, a self-help group, or from another source.

Women have been more likely than men to seek help in mental health and primary care settings rather than in substance abuse treatment settings. While it is good that women are seeking some form of help, research does show that these non-specialty settings tend to yield poorer outcomes.

Ultimately, there is a very critical need for adequate assessments of the individual needs of each woman that help create an appropriate treatment plan. The Orchid Recovery Program believes in helping women struggling to overcome the gender gap in addiction treatment by providing a female-specific treatment outline. Our program offers specialized services to help address the unique challenges that women with addiction face, while providing a secure and supportive atmosphere for mental, physical, and emotional healing. With everything from a safe medical detox to a personalized inpatient treatment program and extensive after-care opportunities.

The Orchid Recovery Program is designed to help eliminate the gender gap in addiction recovery by offering an effective and innovative treatment opportunity. We understand the risks women face, and the hardships they endure while trying to overcome their adversities. We believe every woman’s voice should be heard, and we want to help. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588 now.

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