While men are more than twice as likely to binge drink, women face a unique set of factors that can render them vulnerable to alcohol use disorder (AUD) and addiction. These include financial hardship, intimate partner abuse, inadequate health insurance, lack of childcare and more.
Treatment is most effective when these factors are taken into account and adequately addressed during and after treatment, and throughout long-term recovery. Co-occurring disorders common in this population must be treated by teaching proper coping skills to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety to prevent future relapse.
The Big Picture: Alcohol Addiction in Women
Not only do women face distinct physiological and lifestyle issues that can lead to alcohol use disorder, but they also face unique health risks associated with the disease.
Rates of Binge Drinking among Women
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates:
- Nearly half of adult women report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days.
- Around 13% of adult women who report binge drinking do so 4 times a month, consuming 5 drinks per binge.
- In 2019, about 32% of female high school students consumed alcohol compared with 26% of male high school students.
- That same year, binge drinking was also more common among female (15%) than male (13%) high school students.
Unique Health Risks
The CDC also reports that:
- The risk of cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases is greater among women than men.
- Alcohol-related cognitive decline and shrinkage of the brain develop more quickly for women than for men.
- Women who binge drink are at increased risk for damage to the heart muscle at lower consumption levels and over fewer years of drinking than men.
- Drinking is also associated with breast cancer, even at low levels of consumption.
Specific Causes of Alcohol Addiction in Women
Women are more likely to experience symptoms including depression, anxiety and isolation due to lack of social support and inadequate resources. Many struggle with balancing single parenthood with work. Women also tend to get paid less and work part-time to accommodate other familial obligations and, as a result, do not have health insurance to treat mental illness. It can also be difficult to find affordable child care due to lack of social services. Shame and guilt are also commonly reported by female alcoholics. These stressors can cause women to self-medicate with alcohol and develop alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Additionally, women report more instances of domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault than men. Abused women also report being forced to use alcohol and/or other substances by their partner and are much more likely to become alcoholics than women who are not in abusive relationships. Women are victimized up to eight times more than men by an intimate partner, with 75 percent of the abusers being men. According to research, domestic assault was 11 times more likely to occur on days involving drug and/or alcohol use.
Preference for Female Therapists and Female-Specific Content
Women report feeling more comfortable and safe when working with other women therapists as opposed to males. In a study that included 180 women with alcohol use disorder (AUD), 87.2 percent stated a preference for a female therapist. Regarding sex-specific issues, 94 percent of the participants in this study preferred a female therapist and 80.2 percent showed this preference for sex-neutral issues.
Additional research suggests that women with AUD have better treatment outcomes in women-only programs that emphasize female-specific content. Learning coping skills for dealing with anxiety and depression, being more independent and building a healthy social support system should be targeted in treatment programs for women.
Barriers to treatment such as lack of child care, social support services and psychological support for women with dual diagnoses should be addressed. Female clients working with female therapists report more positive therapeutic relationships than those seeking treatment from male therapists.
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Benefits of Gender-Focused Care
In a sample of 510 college students between 18 and 25 years of age, alcohol use was rated on a six-point scale. Results indicated that binge drinking and alcohol use occur less often in students living in gender-specific dormitories than those living in co-ed. The study concluded that living in co-ed housing resulted in participants’ engagement in more risk-taking activities, including risky sexual behavior and drug use.
Gender-specific residential living environments are available for women with alcohol addiction. A women’s residential home may consist of aspects of treatment that confront women-specific issues. They may include shared living spaces with other women and employment services, legal assistance, counseling resources and life skills training. These services make it more likely a woman will remain in recovery and prevent relapse by addressing the stressors they faced that led them to alcohol abuse in the first place.
Help for Women Struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder
As women battling alcohol addiction or abuse, you are more than a collection of symptoms; you are more than your gender and more than a statistic. Recovery Unplugged fully understands the unique factors that can trigger substance use among women, as well as the barriers they face when they seek help. Recovery Unplugged offers compassionate, intuitive and effective treatment, and is in-network with most major insurance companies to make care more affordable and accessible. Don’t wait another second to get the help you need. Contact Recovery Unplugged now to start your treatment.