Substance Use Disorder may be an "equal opportunity disease," but recovery sure isn't

Thoughts from Jeanie Gschweng, General Manager, Clean & Sober Transitional Living

When I think about the recovery “experience” of men versus women in our transitional living, it strikes me that so many women don’t even have a chance to get here in the first place. And the research backs me up on that: The NIAAA says in 2016, an estimated 5.4 million women over 18 could be considered as having an alcohol use disorder and needed treatment. But less than 1 in 10 (6.9%) actually got formal help.

And the bigger picture is equally bleak:
Female alcohol use disorder in the United States increased by 83.7% between 2002 and 2013, according to a 2017 study sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
High-risk drinking is on the rise among women by about 58%, according to a 2017 study comparing habits from 2001-2002 and 2012-2013. (High-risk drinking is defined as more than three drinks in a day or seven in a week for women.)
• A 2018 study found a steep rise in the rate of alcohol-related ER visits between 2006 and 2014, and increases were larger for women than men.
• Death from liver cirrhosis rose in women from 2000 to 2013.

So, what’s going on? In my 13 years at CSTL, I’ve seen that it’s a whole lot easier for men to step away from their home situation and seek treatment or sober living for an extended period of time. If they are married, their spouse can stay home and take care of the children. If they aren’t married and don’t have kids, well, you’ve just eliminated some major barriers to building a strong recovery.

Because there are role-based barriers to treatment, most of our female residents are women without children, and they are typically single. They are young women who aren’t married yet and don’t have kids. Or they are older women whose kids have left the nest. And if a female resident has a spouse but doesn’t have kids, there always seems to be a lot of pressure to hurry up and get better.

And women with small children simply can’t make it here because who would take care of the kids if Mom is away getting the help she needs?? If they do make their way here, the women with young children are trying to “do the work” of recovery as fast as they can so they can get back home. It’s so much harder for them to be engaged and focused and do the healing work when they have minor children who are tugging at their heartstrings. The deck sure seems stacked against the woman who seeks recovery but don’t get the time necessary to build that essential foundation.

These role-based dynamics apply no matter why someone seeks treatment. Alcohol, opioids, meth…they all scream out for an equal opportunity to build a strong recovery, no matter what.

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