If you use the popular media as your guide to addiction, you'll easily be led to believe that all addicts are men, and that all male addicts become aggressive and violent. Depending on which study you believe and how you define addiction, though, between 10% and 25% of women struggle with addiction at some point, and almost half of all addicts are women. Women who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction may feel isolated, ashamed, and profoundly depressed. Many women need drug treatment. The right treatment program offers hope not only for sobriety, but for a better, more fulfilling, and more enriched life.
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Drug and alcohol addiction is a disease just like cancer or diabetes. But because the symptoms are visible only in your behavior, and not in the form of a blood test or visible rash, it's easy to write addiction off as a personal choice. Indeed, some addicts delay treatment for years because they're so addled with shame that they can't admit to themselves to to anyone else that they need help. Beating yourself up over your addiction does nothing to help you get closer to the life you want and deserve. And even if you're convinced you're unworthy of treatment or a failure, your addiction harms those around you; blaming yourself for it only allows you addiction to continue to hurt the people you love the most.
So how, exactly, can something that seems like a choice actually be a disease? Addiction fundamentally changes your brain. It begins with your first use of addictive substances. When you're drunk or high, pleasure centers in your brain are activated, encouraging you to continue using and abusing substances. If you have a stressful life, a genetic predisposition to addiction, or simply continue abusing substances for long enough, your body begins changing the way it reacts to your drug of choice. This process is known as dependence. As your body becomes dependent, you need more and more of the drug to get the same results. Eventually, you may not get high at all, or may get a high that's much less pleasurable. This is when addiction begins, though, because at this point your body is dependent on the drug, which means you're stuck using it just to feel normal.
Anyone can become an addict at any time, since addiction is essentially just the biological reaction to prolonged substance use and abuse. Some people, though, are more susceptible to the temptation of drugs and alcohol, more likely to continue prolonged use of substances, and more apt to quickly become addicted. Some risk factors that increase your likelihood of becoming an addict include:
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Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard a lot of hyperbolic claims about how different men and women are. But men and women aren't from different planets. Instead, it's more like they're from different schools. They're similar in more ways than they're different, but they've also been taught different lessons about how to act, how to succeed, and how to live. Unfortunately for women, much of this "education" makes them more vulnerable to addiction, and makes addiction worse for women than it is for men. Seeking drug treatment may be necessary.
Many women are raised believing they should be loving, nurturing, beautiful caregivers at all times. The pressure to conform to this unrealistic standard can be overwhelming. When real women can't live up to the mythic standard, they may adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms. For example, one study found that more than half of women had disordered relationships with food.
Some women opt to cope with the challenges of these endless pressures by turning to drugs or alcohol. Others turn to drugs or alcohol to promote weight-loss or to make friends. The problem is that women tend to have smaller frames than men, with slower metabolisms. This means that women get addicted more quickly, suffer more serious addiction consequences, and are more vulnerable to overdose. Further, because we live in a society that demands perfection from women, women can struggle to find support to overcome their addictions. The unique risk factors women face for addiction include, but are by no means limited to:
Substance abuse is itself a mental illness, which means that if you abuse drugs or alcohol, you have a mental illness. However, excluding substance abuse, about half of all addicts have an additional mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety. These conditions compound the struggles of addiction in a number of ways. First, a mental illness makes you more vulnerable to addiction, since you may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the challenges of your mental illness. Second, mental illness can undermine your judgment, making it difficult for you to accept that your use of drugs or alcohol is unhealthy. Third, treatments for some mental health conditions can become addictive. For instance, Klonopin, which is commonly used to treat anxiety, has a high rate of addiction. And finally, substance abuse can actually cause or worsen mental illness by changing your brain chemistry or causing so much life stress that you develop psychologically unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Although anyone can suffer from mental health issues, women are more likely to develop some mental health issues than men. More women than men have depression, for example, and women are also more vulnerable to anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Thus many women who face addiction may need additional help to cope with mental health issues. Getting clean isn't enough; if you don't treat the underlying mental illness, your addiction may return in no time at all. Getting the right alcohol or drug treatment is very important.
The first step toward treating mental illness is recognizing that you have a mental health condition. Some common mental illnesses, as well as their symptoms, include:
Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized by a traumatic event - such as a rape, domestic violence, natural disaster, life-threatening car accident, or military combat - and the following symptoms:
Mental health professionals now recognize three distinct eating disorders. Binge eating disorder is characterized by periods of time during which you eat large quantities of food. For instance, you might eat two boxes of Oreos. Bulimia is characterized by binging coupled with purging, usually by vomiting or through the use of laxatives. Anorexia is the result of self-starvation, and often coincides with compulsive and excessive exercise.
One of the most troubling aspects of addiction is that it undermines your judgment. No one can think clearly when under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and cravings can further diminish your judgment, even when you're not hight. This makes it tough for many addicts to see what is obvious to outsiders - the addiction is controlling their lives. Rehab is available for women! Alcohol and drug rehabs, like Northpoint, recognize what women need in inpatient treatment and aftercare.
If you're wondering whether you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, the truth is that you probably do. But if you're still not sure, consider the ways your substance use affects your life. A hallmark of addiction is continuing to use a substance despite suffering serious negative consequences. If you continue drinking even after getting a DUI or you insist on smoking marijuana even though you're pregnant, you're likely an addict. Still not sure? Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer yes to three or more, you very likely have a problem with addiction and my need drug treatment:
Alcohol and drug addiction is a progressive illness that does not get better with time or go away on its own. If you, like many women, need help with drug or alcohol dependence, help is available, and the best time to pursue help is today. Drug rehab is an option! Don't wait till tomorrow, when life may be worse and your addiction may escalate further out of control.
For many women struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, rehab is the best option because it removes them from a stressful life, freeing them up to concentrate fully and doggedly on their recovery. For this reason, rehab is the gold standard in treatment, and if previous methods have failed, it's your best option for lasting recovery. Most rehab centers offer the following services, but you can also pursue these on your own. If you opt for a more independent-minded approach, keep in mind that the more support you have, the more likely you are to recover. Thus, pairing therapy with a 12-step program, for example, is more likely to be effective than pursuing just the 12-step program.
When you're chemically dependent on a drug, your body doesn't let you quit the drug without a fight. When you suddenly stop using, your body reacts with a shock-like state known as withdrawal. As you detox from drugs or alcohol, you may experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including strong psychological cravings, mood swings, shakiness dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty sleeping, and similar symptoms.
The severity of the withdrawal process depends on a number of factors: your health, the drug you use, how long you've used drugs, and many other individual factors. Some drugs are harder to detox from than others. Prescription painkillers, heroin, and some anti-anxiety medications, for instance, are typically much harder than marijuana. Likewise, detoxing from alcohol can be very dangerous, even leading to a potentially deadly condition known as delirium tremens. Consequently, it's never a good idea to try to detox on your own. Medically supervised detox is available at Northpoint. After detox, many choose to stay for inpatient drug treatment to address their addiction.
Detoxing from drugs and especially alcohol is serious business. You may need the support and advice of a skilled physician. You can then pursue drug detox or drug rehab, through a standalone program, or under the careful supervision of your doctor. In some cases, your doctor may even be able to prescribe drugs to reduce the intensity of detox or to help reduce the risky side effects of withdrawal.
Addiction support groups are surprisingly effective at helping addicts get and stay sober. With a support group, you get a chance to benefit from the hard-won wisdom of other addicts. 12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) remain the most popular and successful drug and alcohol recovery programs in the world. These programs encourage you to take responsibility, maintain permanent sobriety, and make amends to those who you've hurt. Many addicts find the programs so helpful that they continue attending meetings for years, or even decades, after they've kicked the habit.
12-step programs are free, though participants are encouraged to make a donation, and meetings occur throughout the country at virtually every time of day. However, these groups are loosely spiritual and influenced by Christian doctrine. Each group is independent, so the degree to which a group endorses religion varies wildly. Many atheists and agnostics successfully complete 12-step programs, but some prefer a secular program. SMART Recovery and Rational Recovery offer alternatives if you prefer a completely secular option.
What about other options? Many drug rehab facilities offer group therapy as a supplement to individual therapy sessions. Group therapy can be highly effective because you'll feel less alone, benefit from the wisdom of people further along in their recovery journeys than you are, and get plenty of peer support. Some addiction therapists also offer group therapy to outpatients, so be sure to look into local options.
It's nearly impossible to recover from addiction without some type of therapy. Therapy cuts to the heart of your addiction, exploring why you became an addict in the first place. If you suffer from mental health issues, face stressful life circumstances, or have a history of abuse, therapy is absolutely necessary to get better. A strong alliance and a trusting relationship with your therapist is the single biggest and best predictor of your recovery, so there's no need to obsess too much over the specific approach your therapist uses. In general, though, you'll discuss why you're an addict, what your triggers are for drug abuse, and what lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of relapse.
Looking for a therapist for the first time? Do your homework first by asking the following questions:
Addiction wreaks havoc on your health, so it's important to partner with a doctor who can help you get back on a healthy track. Choose a doctor who has a history of working with addicts, and if you have a mental health condition, be sure to let him know. Oftentimes there are less-addictive medication options for treating mental illness, but you have to ask to get access to these drugs. Your doctor can also help you:
No two women are exactly alike, but many women share one trait in common: a tendency to provide care to others - children, husbands, aging parents, pets, needy friends, etc. If you're a caregiver by nature, you may struggle to get the support you need to fully recover. Strong support, though, is a key predictor of long-term recovery.
Before you can expect to get the support you need, you'll have to come clean about your addiction. If you have children, don't lie, but avoid giving age-inappropriate information. Instead, give them a basic overview of addiction, reassure them that things will get better, and then answer any questions in an age-appropriate way. What about talking to other loved ones? Follow these tips:
Many women struggle to set clear boundaries, worrying that by doing so they're abandoning loved ones or not fulfilling their obligations. You absolutely have a right to your boundaries, and setting clear boundaries is a key ingredient in the recipe for lasting sobriety. Consider the following potential boundaries:
Stress is the single biggest predictor of relapse. Of course, a bit of stress by no means suggests you have to relapse. But if you don't find healthy ways to manage your stress, your risk of relapsing becomes infinitely greater. Try some of the following ideas to reduce your stress:
Addiction may be a disease, but that doesn't mean a healthy lifestyle won't help treat it! Consider, for example, the difference a healthy diet and exercise regimen can make for someone struggling with heart disease. Of course, a few lifestyle changes here and there won't cure your addiction, but they can certainly make the journey to recovery an easier one. If you're ready to do everything you can to maximize your odds of recovering, try several of the following options (note: these are not a replacement for professional drug rehab):
No matter your political leanings, sociocultural background, philosophy on addiction, or personal goals, one things is absolutely true: the recovery journey may be the hardest adventure you ever embark on. But sobriety is absolutely, undeniably worth it. Sobriety is not something that happens in an instant, with a single decision. Instead, it's a series of decisions. Your sobriety journey, then, will continue in some ways for the rest of your life.
The first few weeks are inevitably the hardest, particularly when you're dealing with cravings and detox. After you finish withdrawal, though, the journey gets much easier. By this time, your cravings won't feel like one long, endless nightmare, but instead will be discrete moments. Most cravings only last for about 10 minutes at this point. If you can ride out these cravings, then you'll be addiction-free in no time at all.
You may have heard from well-meaning friends and loved ones that you'll always have cravings. This, though, is simply not true. Cravings do last much longer than you might like, but they also get much less severe over time. Every time you ignore a craving, you master the art of resisting temptation, thus getting one step closer to overcoming your addiction for good. Eventually, you'll face down all of your triggers for use, causing your cravings to completely disappear.
The amount of time this takes varies, though many addiction specialists say it takes about a year. The reason for this is simple: in a given year, you're likely to experience most of your triggers - the holiday season, family visits, money stress, etc. For some people, cravings last longer, and a select few are able to feel better more quickly. No matter where you fall on this continuum, though, know that withdrawal is the worst part of the process; from there, things only get better, and you'll feel almost normal in a matter of weeks. The cravings you feel in those first few days will be gone sooner than you think. And the cravings that remain for that first year or so are much less awful than those initial detox pangs.
About 40% to 60% of addicts relapse, so it's vitally important to never use again, no matter what. Your history as an addict makes you more vulnerable to developing a subsequent addiction, so you'll need to carefully monitor your substance use for the rest of your life. If you do relapse, though, know the journey is not over. Indeed, many addiction experts argue that relapse is part of the recovery process, since relapsing gives you a chance to learn more about your triggers for use while implementing new coping strategies.
Whether you're quitting for the first time or the twentieth, this really can be the time you get clean forever. By admitting you have a problem and reaching for help, you make a bold and courageous first step toward a better life. A year from now, you may not think about drugs or alcohol at all, but you must be willing to take those first steps toward wellness. You may choose to seek program for detox, drug rehab or something else. You can do it, and the right drug treatment program can help.