For many years, providers saw prescription pain addiction as mainly a problem for men. But increasingly, it is clear that opioid abuse is a growing crisis for women. A recent federal report outlines the gravity of the situation: more women are dying from narcotic overdoses (this includes pain pills such as OxyContin) than from cervical cancer or homicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this translates to a nearly 400% increase since 1999.
The Reasons Behind the Addiction Crisis
The reasons behind the addiction crisis are very clear. First, it was precipitated by easy access to pain medications. This is especially true for women, who were not only prescribed narcotics in record numbers, but their prescription dose was often higher than for men. Some research has suggested that chronic pain problems, such as fibromyalgia, may have helped fuel this trend.
Second, women appear more vulnerable to the effects of the drugs. According to researchers, female hormones probably make it easier for women to become physiologically addicted. That means they 'telescope' more quickly than men, and move rapidly from casual use to addiction.
Treatment Access for Women
For many women, the barriers to seeking treatment can seem overwhelming. Many have young children that they are responsible for and worry about childcare issues. Others are afraid that they will be stigmatized because of their addiction, and report higher rates of guilt and shame. For this reason, researchers suggest that women attend rehab programs that are not only sensitive to these issues, but are prepared to treat them holistically.
It used to be thought that women had a much poorer prognosis than men in treatment, but research suggests that with the right intervention, women actually have higher completion rates and lower rates of relapse. For most women, the optimal treatment is an opiates rehab for women only. This is partly due to the way that women are socialized. In groups, women are often more willing to build a trusting therapeutic relationship. They form stronger treatment bonds and are more willing to share and talk about their feelings.
Special Treatment Considerations
Women entering treatment often have complicated histories of mental health issues that need to be addressed. Many have histories of depression, anxiety and trauma. Often, these problems have contributed to their drug dependency. Many women find that in order to treat their drug addiction, they need to learn how to understand and cope with these problems.
Although the growing drug crisis is alarming, the outlook for women who get into treatment is very good. Keep in mind that the best treatment options are usually gender specific and include staff that are knowledgeable about the special needs, resources and strengths of the women that they treat. With the right intervention and support, most addicts can turn their life around and begin the journey towards recovery.