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Women With Addictions: Special Needs, Special Challenges

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Quitting an addiction to heroin and other drugs can be difficult under any circumstances, but for women who are struggling to stop abusing drugs, the road to recovery may be especially rocky. Because women use substances differently than men, they can face more obstacles to getting treatment. Women centered approaches to treating heroin addiction can offer the support they need for long-term recovery.

Women and Men Abuse Substances Differently

In general, men and women behave differently about substance abuse. Although more men than women typically abuse heroin and other street and prescription drugs, women become addicted more quickly. When women do stop using a substance, they are more likely to relapse after a period of abstinence than men are.

Women are more likely than men to have a co-occurring mental health condition, such as depression or bipolar disorder – a condition called “dual diagnosis.” Because of these differences, women in general addiction treatment programs may not get the help they need.

Children’s Concerns Can Affect Treatment


Many women-centered rehab programs cater to mothers and pregnant patients.

Many women delay or avoid seeking treatment for their addiction to heroin or other drugs because of concerns about their children. There may be no one to care for children while a mother is in a treatment program. The cost of a program might be out of reach for a woman struggling to pay bills and rent. And some women worry that if they try to get treatment for an addiction, their children might be removed and placed in foster care.

Pregnancy, too, poses special difficulties for women with addictions. Although using heroin in pregnancy triples the rate of stillbirth and increases risks of certain birth defects, detox and withdrawal are also problematic. Withdrawal can be hard on the body – even more so during pregnancy.

Medications that are often used to help with the discomforts of withdrawal, such as methadone or buprenorphine, can pose risks for a developing fetus. That means pregnant heroin users who want to stop the drug are caught between two risky options.

Babies born to addicted mothers can also be addicted themselves, and show symptoms of withdrawal not long after birth. Addicted infants may have developmental delays and emotional problems, so that they need special care and therapy in their early years to overcome these deficits.

Addiction Leads to Other Risks

Women with addictions are vulnerable in other ways, too. Women who use heroin and other drugs face a higher risk of domestic abuse – physical and/or emotional abuse from a partner or family member. They are also more vulnerable to rape and other forms of sexual violence than women who are not addicted.  For women of color, the risks increase.

The Top 10 Drug Addiction Treatment Centers

Women-Centered Treatment Gets Results

Many treatment programs for heroin addiction are designed for male substance abusers, and these programs may not do an effective job of serving the needs of women in similar circumstances. For that reason, a number of private and public inpatient and outpatient drug addiction programs just for women have been created around the country.

Women-centered addiction programs typically offer counseling and therapy aimed at helping women not only with addictions, but also with related issues such as domestic violence and women’s health concerns.

Family therapy and parenting help may play a bigger part in rehab programs designed for women than in general addiction treatment programs. Some programs are designed to serve specific populations such as pregnant women, or women with a dual diagnosis.

Overall, men are more likely to abuse substances than women. But the gender gap is narrowing, and that raises more awareness about the unique needs of women who abuse heroin and other drugs. For those women, quitting an addiction and staying drug free can be challenging – but programs designed with women in mind are there to help.

Is addiction harming your life and relationships? We’re here to help. Contact us at 888-602-1971(Who Answers?) for the solutions you need right now.

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Calls to numbers on a specific treatment center listing will be routed to that treatment center. Calls to any general helpline will be answered or returned by one of the treatment providers listed, each of which is a paid advertiser.

By calling the helpline you agree to the terms of use. We do not receive any commission or fee that is dependent upon which treatment provider a caller chooses. There is no obligation to enter treatment.

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