Are circumstances leading to relapse different for men and women? Are their biological factors or differences between relapsing men and women? There are so many questions surrounding a woman’s relapse because female addiction is still a relatively new field in its nascent stages.
Alcohol affects the bodies of men and the bodies of women differently. This is because of women’s hormonal make up and general metabolism that allows alcohol to wreak more damage on their bodies. Men and women have different amounts of body fat and water; women have a higher proportion of fat and a lower amount of water; alcohol is not fat soluble. Therefore, when a woman and man drink together the same amount of alcohol will have different blood alcohol levels. Hers will be higher. A woman’s body takes longer to recover from the effects of drugs and alcohol and detox itself. Research indicates that women generally need more recovery time to avoid relapse. If they are coming back from a relapse, they need not only more time, but more intensive counseling and physical allowances.
One of the biggest barriers to treatment in women is the guilt and shame they experience over their ‘unladylike’ behaviour while using. Despite holding the knowledge (and being told repeatedly by others) that addiction is a disease, they continue to hold themselves responsible.
The second factor is family’s lack of acceptance. They let her continue to hold onto the guilt and keep reminding her of her unacceptable behaviour. This being the case for initial treatment, we can see why a woman being treated for the second or third time would encounter even more difficulty in support.
A healthy support system is essential for recovery. However, women more often than not, don’t have as solid a support system as men do. This is also one of the major contributing causes for relapse. The escapades of men may be viewed as a part of ‘growing up’ or male entitlement while it is far more difficult for families to view their daughter’s behaviour and experiences under drugs as an inevitable part of addiction.
This difference in attitude is also prominent when they begin to recover. A male will find his parents’ full support during treatment while a female will face family members who are angry, unwilling to forgive and let go and who blame her for their hurt feelings. Even children of female addicts refuse to meet them, or find it harder to accept an alcoholic mother than an alcoholic father. People find it harder to accept sexual deviance in women as compared to men. A father having an affair is more acceptable and is forgiven than a mother indulging in the same where family members are unwilling to forgive a woman.
Most of these harmful attitudes stem from societal expectations of a woman’s role and when she does not fulfill that role she is looked down upon and it is seen as directly a reflection of her faulty character.
Keeping in mind the above challenges a woman faces in recovery, we can segregate the various problems women face according to their age group.
- An adolescent often faces angry, frustrated and over-anxious parents and may return to her peer group most of whom are into drugs and alcohol.
- A twenty five to forty year old may have to deal with an insecure husband who may resent her going to meetings. Further, she will need to manage the house, cook and take care of the children and possible manage a job. She will have to make time for meetings and her recovery amidst all this.
- A forty to sixty year old may experience a lot of guilt about ‘lost time’ and may try to make up by overdoing things at home. The stress and the guilt set her up for another relapse.
It is important to ask for help in order to prevent relapse. Having a strong support system goes a long way in women’s recovery. Thus creating a nurturing and effective environment and network for recovering females plays a crucial role in preventing relapse in women alcoholics and addicts.
Hope Trust is one of the few rehabs in India that understand women’s issues and provides inpatient and outpatient support for women alcoholics and addicts. The rehab has experienced and qualified women staff to deal with women facing addiction issues.