Traditionally, alcohol use disorders have been more associated with men than women. Today, however, the gap has narrowed, as women are drinking alcohol at historically high rates.
Unfortunately, women may be more susceptible to the obvious (and hidden) dangers associated with drinking. They also tend to be less likely to ask for help and receive the appropriate treatment.
Differences Between Men and Women
While men still have higher rates of alcohol use disorders, women tend to develop an addiction to alcohol at a faster rate. Therefore, women are more susceptible to experiencing the inevitable consequences of alcohol abuse soon after their drinking problem starts progressing.
Female drinking habits have evolved over time. High-risk drinking (having 4 or more drinks at least one day per week) has skyrocketed almost 60% between 2001-2002 to 2012-2013.
Women absorb and metabolize alcohol differently than men. Because they typically have less body water than men, they reach higher and faster alcohol concentrations. In other words, even when taking all other factors into account, women become seriously impaired faster than their male counterparts.
Moreover, research shows that gender plays a major role in determining whether someone seeks treatment. For example, women with alcohol-related cirrhosis are less likely than men to seek out substance abuse treatment.
What Stops Women From Seeking Treatment?
Women face unique barriers that can prevent them from seeking appropriate medical or clinical treatment. Here is a closer look at some of those barriers.
Women are more likely to experience financial obstacles that impact the treatment process. These financial obstacles may include needing to work, raising children, or lack of support from other family members.
Family And Social Obligations
Married and single mothers alike have a particularly challenging time seeking treatment. This is usually due to the responsibility of raising their children, as they may not have another form of childcare available. The fear of losing their children may hinder them from finding outside treatment.
Finally, high levels of guilt, shame, or humiliation related to the stigma of addiction can pose serious barriers. Some cultures may not react favorably to medical or psychiatric treatment. These models may evoke even more negative feelings for women in suffering.
Women have higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders. These disorders have their own set of challenges, which can be exacerbated by alcohol problems. These issues may prevent women from seeking appropriate treatment.
How Women Benefit From Treatment
Alcohol treatment can provide women with the support and resources needed to start recovery and sustain sobriety. Comprehensive treatment may include:
- Medical detox
- Medication evaluating and monitoring
- Individual and family psychotherapy
- Group therapy
- Support groups
- Holistic options (meditation, yoga, acupuncture)
Furthermore, treatment provides a safe and supervised space for women to connect with other like-minded women. Many gender-specific programs cater specifically to women for this very reason.
Treatment can also provide support for co-occurring disorders and issues. Recovery often entails a mind-body transformation. While getting sober is one part of the process, long-term change requires changing the way you think, act, and behave on a daily basis.
When left untreated, alcoholism tends to progress. That means drinking more and, often, facing more consequences as a result. It's a living nightmare, and it's one of the most compelling motivators to seek sobriety.