On the heels of International Women’s Day we at the Oasis Movement would like to take a moment to focus on women and addiction. In general, more men than women suffer from addiction however, woman face greater challenges in overcoming their addictions. The physiological and psychological effects of drugs, alcohol and even nicotine are vastly different between the two sexes. Traditional treatments and recovery have been developed based primarily on the male experience and do not make allowances for the unique female experience.
It is no secret, men and women are physically different and in light of this women experience addiction differently than men, and subsequently respond differently to treatment. Women progress more quickly to the stage of addiction than their male counterparts. In the case of alcohol, our bodies do not metabolize and expel alcohol as quickly and efficiency as the male body. Why you may ask? Our bodies are made up of more fatty tissue and less water than men and, when we drink alcohol it becomes stored in our fatty tissue rather than diluted in water and expedited quickly through our systems. Another physiological disadvantage which may increase our predisposition to alcoholism is the minimal occurrence of alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase in our system. These two enzymes are responsible for breaking down alcohol in the stomach and liver, and thus effect the rate by which one recovers when imbibing. In men, the presence of these enzymes is quite high. While low levels of water and metabolizing enzymes increase alcoholism it is an excess of the hormone estrogen which may put women at risk for drug addiction. Estrogen is said to “awaken receptors for drugs inside the brain, and when these receptors are awakened, they’re able to transmit rapid and profound signals of pleasure”. The brain then identifies drug use with intense pleasure and seeks more thus expediting a womans addiction to a substance.
Treating women who are addicts is also challenging, and while most therapies work, it would behoove the medical community to create slightly more specialized program for women. It’s a challenge for both men and women to get clean and sober. Once in a rehab program however, it is more likely for a man to complete the program than a woman. The reason? Family obligations! We as women, generally put the needs our family (children, husbands, partners, parents, etc) ahead of our own well being. We think that it is enough to make sure everyone is happy and healthy around us; by ensuring everyone else’s well being this will somehow magically resove our own issues. Nothing can be further from the truth. We must dispel the myth that we as mothers, wives, and daughters should not put our well being ahead of others. This does not make us selfish, in fact by doing so our ability to care and support our families is reinforced. Furthermore, it is up to us as women to support each other in our effort to become healthy and whole and, to demand that treatment for alcohol and drug addiction be tailored to our specific physiological and psychological needs.
Happy International Women’s Day