Women and men use drugs for different reasons, in different ways, experience addiction differently, and even relapse for different reasons. So it’s no surprise that men and women also face different obstacles in early recovery as well.
In the early stages of treatment, many women share the same fears about getting help for their addiction. They worry that their family won’t be able to function without them, or that they’ll lose custody of their children. Many women also believe that their addiction is simply a social habit or that it’s purely a result of anxiety, mental stress, or depression, instead of acknowledging the addiction as a problem on its own. Fear of shame and financial concerns are also some of the top reasons women struggle to get help for substance abuse problems.1
Once a woman has overcome these barriers to treatment and has completed a drug and alcohol rehab program, the fight for sobriety still continues. There are many other obstacles that women face in early recovery, and that if left unaddressed, could pose a substantial relapse risk.
Women enrolled in a transitional housing program are less likely to relapse because they have access to a number of recovery support services, meaningful relationships with peers and sponsors, and a heavy amount of structure in their lives. Even still, the risk of relapse is highest in the first 90 days of recovery and those with less experience being sober need additional support.
Women are actually less likely than men to relapse, in part because they tend to participate in group counseling more, but there are still certain aspects of a woman’s life that can pose a risk to sober living. Women may be more prone to relapse for the following reasons.2,3
1. Undiagnosed mental health problems
Research shows about half of all people who suffer from a substance use disorder also experience mental illnesses, some of the most common being anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and antisocial personality disorder.4 While it is well-known that mental disorders and addiction frequently co-occur, many women may suffer from undiagnosed mental health problems, which increases the odds of self-medicating behaviors and relapse.
2. Addiction stigma and lack of support
Women who are married to or romantically involved with partners who are actively abusing drugs or alcohol are much more likely to relapse due to a lack of support at home and within their close, personal relationships. Since women are also more likely to relapse due to negative emotions and interpersonal problems than men are, women may find it difficult to stay sober if they are experiencing marital issues.5 In addition, addicted women often face social stigmas (especially if they are mothers) that can make it difficult to seek care and continue treatment with ongoing recovery services.6
3. Romantic relationships in early recovery
Jumping into a relationship too early on in recovery can pose serious risks for sobriety and the risk of relapse can skyrocket in the event of a messy breakup. For women, a relapse following a breakup is often due to feelings of low-self worth, interpersonal issues and conflict, and a lack of focus on oneself and one’s recovery. Since dating in early recovery can be risky, it’s often a good idea to wait.
4. Unrecognized addiction to love, sex, or relationships
It’s not uncommon for both women and men to experience other types of addictions that contribute to their substance use disorder, such as an addiction to sex, love, or relationships. Many women may find that they are continually drawn to unhealthy relationships in recovery because they tend to associate substance abuse with their sexual and romantic life.7 Often, not dealing with shame regarding past relationships, previous trauma or abuse, and a lack of confidence can contribute to the development of these addictive behaviors and can make it difficult to stay sober.
5. Poor coping skills
Since research shows women are more likely to relapse due to negative emotions and interpersonal conflict than men are, addiction treatment that does not provide effective training on how to deal with depression, anger, sadness, and conflict may not properly equip women in recovery to prevent relapse. As a result, they may struggle to sustain their sobriety after rehab is over.
6. Food/Body Concerns
Some women initially begin abusing drugs like stimulants to lose weight. Once they stop using them, they may experience some weight gain, which can cause concerns about body image. If a co-occurring eating disorder is present with addiction, this is especially likely to be a problem for a woman in recovery.
While enrolled in a transitional housing program, many women will experience stressful situations they did not experience while in rehab. Many sober living programs are designed to help clients manage these situations while maintaining their sobriety, but stress still plays a large role in relapse. Boredom can also prove to be just as dangerous.
After the happiness and euphoria of the pink cloud fade, some women may feel tempted to use drugs again in an effort to improve their mood or to self-medicate. Often times in early recovery, both men and women feel a void that was once filled with their substance abuse. Feelings of depression and lack of self-care are also common during this time. For many women, it takes time to adjust to sober life in a transitional housing program and experiencing these emotions is part of the process.
Many women abuse drugs and alcohol as a way to reduce sexual inhibitions. After committing to a life of sobriety, intimacy may still be difficult, especially without the aid of alcohol or drugs. It can be tempting to use again simply for this purpose, but doing so has serious consequences, including full relapse, unplanned pregnancy, and STDs.
Young girls who start using drugs and alcohol early in life often do so to increase their confidence.8 This remains to be a common reason for drug and alcohol abuse in women as well. Women in a sober living program may need some extra support from their peers to build their confidence and self-esteem without the use of drugs and alcohol.
11. Hormonal changes
Poor nutrition and toxins in the body during active addiction can disrupt a woman’s hormones. In recovery, additional hormonal changes such as menopause, a woman’s monthly cycle, and even just stress can add to the mix, causing feelings of depression, anxiety, and exhaustion. These emotions could trigger addictive behaviors or relapse.9
12. Recovery milestones
Recovery milestones such as sobriety birthdays can actually become a relapse trigger for many women. In some cases, people feel like they have achieved a significant amount of time in sobriety and therefore can control their usage. A lapse into using drugs or alcohol once could cause a full relapse back into uncontrolled usage.
Support and Treatment Needs of Women In Early Recovery
According to a study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), women have specific needs that should be addressed to optimize recovery. These include:10
- Supportive relationships – Women are wired for connection, therefore, relationships play an important role in all stages of addiction recovery. Balanced, healthy relationships with peers in recovery, AA sponsors, counselors, and resident assistants at sober living houses can all provide daily support, improve self-esteem, and help women develop their own identities in their newfound sobriety.
- Family involvement – Many women who suffer from addiction were raised in abusive households, experienced trauma, had parents that abused drugs and/or alcohol, or had a dysfunctional home life. As a result, women often develop relationships as adults that mimic their upbringing. Rehab and sober living support services should always involve the family and address unhealthy roles, behaviors, and communication issues that will play a major role in the maintenance of sobriety upon returning home after treatment.11
- Relationships with romantic partners – A woman’s substance abuse is often tied to her husband, boyfriend, or partner which can be a major roadblock in early recovery. While enrolled in a transitional housing program, a woman will be temporarily shielded from the influence of her partner’s substance abuse, but returning to that harmful living environment will severely increase her risk for relapse. Recovery support services should allow women to address these issues with a counselor, aid in ending that harmful relationship if the woman chooses to do so, and in some cases, provide safety planning for the woman and any children involved.
- Sexuality – Substance abuse is strongly tied to a woman’s sexuality and recovery support services at a sober living home should provide opportunities to discuss these issues with female peers in recovery and counselors. Common concerns women have about sexuality during recovery involve their sexual identity, a fear of sex without drugs and alcohol, sexual dysfunctions, and STDs.
In order to successfully achieve long-term sobriety, these relapse concerns must be met with a transitional living program that provides the appropriate recovery support resources. Eudaimonia Recovery Homes offers a wealth of recovery support services to meet the specific challenges and obstacles women face in early recovery.
To learn more about our sober living programs for women in Austin, Houston, Colorado Springs, and Chicago, please call our admissions team today.