Women and Relapse

Women and Relapse

November 18th, 2013 Helpful Articles, Relapse Prevention

In the past, drug and alcohol addiction had long been thought of as a man’s problem; a perception that seemed to seep into its treatment as well. Drug rehab was mainly catered towards men, and research subjects were almost exclusively men. However, addiction has now shed that stereotype and is currently affecting an estimated 2.7 million women.

Loretta Smith’s Story

Growing up Loretta always seemed to get into trouble and began running away from home as early as 13-years-old. After her third attempt, Loretta ended up homeless living on the streets for a few years, which was when she discovered methamphetamine.

Women holds her face in her hands in sadness.

Desperate to fit in, she began abusing the drug regularly, even throughout multiple pregnancies and run-ins with the law. Addicted from the age of 13 to the age of 43, drugs took everything away from Loretta’s life.

It took many years for Loretta to understand the severity of her addiction and seek proper drug rehab treatment. Yet after making the courageous decision to enter an addiction treatment program, Loretta is now in long-term recovery and is rebuilding her life and relationships with her children.

Women and Relapse

An important aspect to recovering from addiction is understanding how addiction and relapse can affect an individual. For example, the 2.7 million women are being affected by addiction in ways noticeably different than men.

Women have different reasons than men for abusing drugs or alcohol; they tend to become addicted faster after using smaller amounts of drugs than men, and they have their own reasons for relapsing. The top five reasons women relapse are:

  1. Getting into romantic relationships too soon: In their early stages, romantic relationships can pose a serious threat to an individual’s recovery as it is also a time when thinking can be clouded and emotions are running high. It is also a time when a woman might be at a greater risk for attracting or becoming attracted to someone who is addicted, abusive, or otherwise emotionally unavailable. According to researchers from the University of Nevada, women in particular are at risk of relapse as a result of interpersonal conflicts and low self-worth connected to interpersonal relationships. Until new coping mechanisms are cemented in place, the end or routine “bump in the road” of a relationship may send an individual into a downward spiral which could lead to relapse.
  2. Unrecognized love, relationship, or sex addiction: Early recovery may present new challenges for women to face, such as the challenge of being alone, feeling worthless or unloved when not in a relationship, or needing the attention of prospective partners to boost self-esteem. Yet these challenges can also be an indicator of a larger problem; as both sex and drugs stimulate the reward circuitry in the brain it can put the individual struggling with addiction at greater risk of sex and love addiction as well as other compulsions and addictions. Additionally, women may start using drugs with their partners or cruising for partners in bars, clubs, and other places where drug and alcohol use is prevalent; which is distracting and dysfunctional as well as putting the individual in recovery at increased risk for relapse.
  3. Undiagnosed psychiatric disorders: Co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety plague more than half of the people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. When it comes to women with a dual diagnosis, it is the negative feelings and depressed moods that are particularly common before a relapse; where on the flip side; men are more likely to relapse as a result of positive emotional states.
  4. Stigma and lack of support: When it comes to addiction treatment women face unique challenges and barriers, completely different from that of men, such as care-giving responsibilities, the stigma of being a female addict, lack of resources, and inadequate support from loved ones. Additionally women are at greater risk for relapse as a result of marriage and marital conflict, different from men where marriage seems to reduce their probability of returning to substance abuse. It has been discovered that women are more likely to start drinking again when with a friend or romantic partner.
  5. Inadequate coping skills: Unfortunately women tend to demonstrate a weaker belief in their ability to handle difficult situations as well as poor coping skills.

However, multiple studies have discovered that in fact women are less likely to relapse than men, in part because they are more likely to engage in group counseling. Women are also more likely and willing to admit a problem with drug use and seek professional help, which greatly increases their likelihood of avoiding relapse and maintaining long-term recovery.

On a different token, while relapse may seem like a common occurrence, it’s important to note that long-term recovery from addiction is entirely possible and that relapse does not mean you have failed in your attempts to achieve sobriety. If you or a loved one are showing signs of relapse, or are ready to start a drug rehab program, don’t hesitate to call our addiction specialists for more information.


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