Millions of American women grapple with mental health issues and the destructive consequences of alcohol and drug addictions daily. Understanding the connection between women’s mental health and addiction can provide insight into the most effective methods of prevention and treatment.
Early research on the causes and effects of addiction and its relationship to mental health solely focused on men. It was thought that drug addiction was primarily a male problem. Women experiencing problems with alcohol or drug addiction were thought to be having essentially the same experience as men, and therefore, would require the same approach to prevention and treatment techniques. As studies continued and expanded to include female experiences, biological and environmental factors became evident. Studies showed that the factors that are related to women’s addiction problems are different than that of men, and that treatment must be tailored as such.
Women Suffer Higher Mental Disorders at Increasing Rates
The stress of daily life can lead many women to form anxieties that have the potential to develop into debilitating disorders that disrupt or even destroy lives, families, and careers.
According to the World Health Organization, women are twice as likely to develop mental health problems as men. These mental health problems, in turn, lead many women to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
Women suffering from mental health issues can be vulnerable to drug or alcohol addictions, sending them further into a depressive state. Mental illnesses that affect increasing numbers of women who wind up developing harmful addictions include:
Defined by an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Symptoms can display episodic or chronic bouts of depression.
General anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress, and social anxiety are examples of panic disorders. These may lead to or develop as a result of a drug or alcohol addiction.
The sociocultural sexualizing of women throughout the years has been a significant factor in the development of eating disorders. Negative body image and low self-esteem often lead to a negative relationship with food and body dysmorphia and regularly last well into adulthood. Anorexia and bulimia typically develop during a woman’s teenage years, but women of all ages can be affected.
Beyond self-medicating mental illnesses, some of the unique reasons that women turn to drugs or alcohol are:
- Weight control
- Pain management
- Staving off exhaustion
Regardless of the root cause of a woman’s substance use, women are vulnerable to falling into dangerous, addictive patterns. While men are more prone to experimenting with drugs, women are as likely to become addicted and even more likely to relapse.
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Connecting Women’s Mental Health and Addiction
For many women in America, mental illness and addiction are connected in dangerous, destructive ways. Women are likely to confide with a physician about physical ailments that may be symptoms of mental health problems and addiction. However, they are generally prone to keep these issues to themselves.
Women often will turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of escaping the symptoms of mental illness, which then creates a vicious circle of dependency and illness.
Mental health problems and addiction are often co-connected and should be dealt with as related issues. Many women who are diagnosed with alcohol or drug addiction are suffering from mental health issues at the same time. A dual diagnosis of addiction and mental health illness requires a specialized treatment plan for both disorders at the same time. Dual diagnosis treatment allows women to heal holistically. Treatment addresses the core issues that cause some women to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
Women and the Dangers of Prescription Medication
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found more women are dying of prescription overdoses than ever before, quickly narrowing the gender gap.
Women can also be vulnerable to overdosing on medication prescribed to treat mental illnesses, such as:
- Anxiety medicine
- Sleeping pills
Factors that have caused the rise in prescription pain medication use among women include:
- Tend to visit doctors often
- Generally, report higher pain rates
- More at risk than men of experiencing chronic pain
- Receive more prescriptions for pain medication at high doses and for more extended periods
Treating Women’s Mental Health and Addiction
The challenges of women’s mental health and addiction treatment can vary widely from the treatment processes for men. Gender-specific treatment programs for women keep in mind the biological differences and varying social causes and circumstances that can lead women to alcohol and drug addictions.
The compassionate team at Ocean Hills Recovery Drug is committed to providing a wide range of safe and proven treatment programs specially designed for women, including:
- Addiction Treatment
- Alcohol Treatment
- Drug Treatment
- Dual Diagnosis
- Inpatient Drug Rehabilitation
- 12-Step Recovery
For complete information on the professional recovery programs offered for women, contact Ocean Hills Recovery today.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.