Social messaging make women harder to treat

By Sara Solovitch

When a man and a woman drink too much alcohol — by far the most widely abused substance in the country¬† they not only do it for different reasons, they also get different results.

Where men may use alcohol to feel “powerful,” women usually drink to fight feelings of hopelessness and anger.

Though women generally drink less than men, the risk of alcoholism kicks in a lot faster: Seven or more glasses a week is considered risky for a woman, compared to 14 or more for a man.

Alcoholism also carries greater risks to women. Heavy drinking increases the chances of a woman becoming a victim of violence and sexual assault. Most women who abuse alcohol and drugs — studies show as many as 80 percent to 90 percent — have a history of physical or sexual abuse.

Women are more likely than men to develop liver inflammation and to die from cirrhosis. They are more vulnerable to alcohol-induced brain damage and cardiovascular disease. And heavy drinking appears to increase the risk of breast cancer, as well as cancers of the digestive tract.

The stigma for using drugs and alcohol also is greater, and it’s often one of the biggest obstacles to a woman seeking treatment. She fears — rightly — that she will lose custody of her children if she admits to having a substance abuse problem. Or she’s so busy being the caregiver that she puts off asking for help, often for so long that she develops serious ailments.

The numbers, fairly consistent since the 1990s, say it all: Of the 15.1 million people who abuse alcohol, 4.6 million are women, and only 25 percent of them are in traditional treatment, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Women also tend to go more nontraditional routes for help with addiction, looking to either their doctors, therapists or psychiatrists.

During the past decade, segregated treatment has become a key to success for women, providing a more nurturing environment that encourages patients, often childhood victims of physical and sexual abuse, to open up and talk about the traumas that led to their substance abuse.

Sourde: l7th August 2006

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