Women and Substance Abuse (Causes, Signs, and Recovery)

By March 20, 2021September 20th, 2023Substance Abuse
women and substance abuse

Substance abuse among women has increased significantly in recent years. Research from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) reveals rates of nonmedical prescription drug use are higher among women. Women who turn to substances in order to self-medicate are at risk of becoming addicted.

In this article, we’re exploring the connection between women and substance abuse, including the common causes, signs, and paths to recovery.

Women and Substance Abuse

There are several clear stages of addiction, including the initial introduction, escalation, and maintenance. Research shows women respond differently than men. For example, women will have a more pleasurable experience during the introduction of a substance and are more likely to self-medicate. In terms of escalation, women are more likely to increase the frequency of using substances. Once the addictive behavior is established, women will stabilize at higher doses of substances and experience greater side effects of the drug.

Let’s take a closer look at the connection between women and substance abuse, including the common causes, signs, and holistic healing options.

Origins of Substance Abuse for Women

Most of us know that it isn’t good practice to blame any one thing, directly, for our problems. That isn’t to say that there are not certain factors that play a prominent role in a woman’s journey into the dark realm of substance abuse.

Whether it be due to biological or cultural factors – or a combination of both – women are more likely to place emphasis on the quality of relationships. As such, many of the precursors to a woman developing a substance abuse problem are related to the dynamics experienced in relationships.

Traumatic Childhoods

While it is not an exclusively female problem to carry the weight of negative childhood experiences long into adulthood, biological women do tend to internalize the trauma more than those with an XY chromosome combination. In our roles as nurturers – as empirically evidenced by the state of pregnancy – we take our interpersonal experiences to heart.

This empathetic disposition can mean that we tend to seek to blame ourselves before blaming others, up to and including blaming ourselves for not being able to make our experience as children into something better.

The scars that are carried from traumatic childhood events – such as being physically, sexually, or emotionally abused – can be taken forward with us into the future, and can result in becoming trapped in a self-defeating cycle of anxiety, depression, and self-loathing. Substance abuse often stems from a desire to escape these negative feelings.

Toxic Relationships

Closely related to the topic of traumatic childhoods is that of toxic adult relationships.

It is a well-observed phenomenon that dysfunctional families of origin set the stage for our seeking out and engaging in dysfunctional relationships as adults. Having a difficult childhood isn’t always a prerequisite to getting ourselves into bad relationships, however. Sometimes, we just have to learn through experience.

A toxic relationship is one that does more harm than good. Elements of a toxic relationship can include all forms of abuse, lies, and cheating. Less obvious signs of a toxic relationship include being asked to give more than you get, feeling invalidated when it comes to your feelings and perspectives, and having a partner who is emotionally unavailable.

Due to the complexities of relationship factors, some women will take a long time to realize that they would be better off on their own. Meanwhile, they may attempt to reduce the misery by developing a dependency on drugs or alcohol.

Work-Home Stress

While this category of substance abuse temptation may not initially appear to have the common factor of being relationship-oriented, a closer look will reveal the link.

Prior to WWII, women had the primary function of being a homemaker. As women increasingly gained the ability to make their own money, a new sense of female empowerment was obtained. That glow of that accomplishment was somewhat dimmed once we realized that we now had to be responsible for managing both worlds, simultaneously.

Any woman who has engaged in the task of fulfilling the role of being an attentive wife, a loving parent, a good homemaker, and a successful employee – and at the same time – knows that the pressure of it all can become too much.

The stress of trying to be a superwoman can lead us to want just the least bit of reprieve. What starts out as a nightly glass of wine or sleeping pill to unwind can turn into a craving for more relief. This need for more relief can result in a substance abuse problem.

Signs of Substance Abuse in Women

When it comes to signs of substance abuse for women, there are many similarities with those found in men. One of the notable differences tends to lie in a woman’s historical tendency to avoid aggressive responses and shun risk-taking behavior. If you – or a woman you love – are increasingly showing signs of anger, violence, or lack of concern for safety, there may be a substance abuse issue at the core.

Universal signs of a substance abuse problem include neglecting responsibilities, withdrawing from social engagements, not being able to account for missing money, and disruptions in sleep patterns.

Outside of the obvious factor of being visibly intoxicated, many of the symptoms of a substance abuse problem can also be associated with certain mental health disorders. It is important to not jump to conclusions when observing these signs in a loved one.

Recovery from Substance Abuse

As our community knowledge and skill level in treating substance abuse issues improve, so does the prognosis for recovery. Substance abuse problems are now often considered within the context of other, underlying, mental health concerns. Co-occurring disorder treatment seeks to heal the inner wounds that may lead to substance abuse while simultaneously providing education and motivation to move away from a dependence on drugs or alcohol.

A woman who learns to love herself, initiate healthy boundaries with others, and obtain a healthy work-home balance is in a better position to resist the temptation to escape the pressures of life through substance abuse.

If you are stuck in the destructive cycle of substance abuse, consider exploring the benefits of sustainable recovery here at Villa Kali Ma. We work to heal women from the effects of addictions and the underlying emotional intolerance that fuels the avoidance cycle.

We invite you to share yourself in your own time when you are ready. Know that you are welcome to unfold your imperfections and vulnerabilities in a safe space free of judgment, condemnation, rejection, and ridicule. At Villa Kali Ma, you will be welcomed and cared for with the respect, love, and dignity you deserve.

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