Addiction – Are Women at Greater Risk? Q&A with addiction counselor and author Brenda J. Iliff, MA

Q:
Is it true that women are the fastest growing demographic for substance abuse today?

A:
Yes. Historically, men have had the higher reported incidence of substance abuse and dependence, but women are closing that gap. Young women, in particular, have an almost equal percentage of abuse and dependence concerns as young men.

Q:
Are women more at risk for developing addiction?

A:
While addiction is an equal opportunity disease, it affects women differently. Women become addicted differently, start using for different reasons, progress faster, recover differently, and relapse for different reasons.

Many years ago, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous told us that women progress faster. Now science is telling us why. It’s purely physiological. The female body processes alcohol, and to a varying extent other chemicals, differently than does the male body. Therefore the brain and other organs are exposed to higher concentrations for longer periods. That’s why one drink for a woman is said to have twice the physical impact as one drink for a man.

Q:
What prevents women from getting help?

A:
Shame and fear are major barriers. The stigma attached to addiction can be stronger for women than men. Particularly moms. It’s difficult to seek help and to make that first phone call or tell that first person. It’s even more difficult to get truly honest with oneself.

Sometimes women are diagnosed with a medical condition or mental health concern without being asked about drinking or drug use. Or, if asked, they may deny the problem. Above all, women need a program that offers real hope. I’ve seen women begin treatment full of shame and despair, with their heads down. As they progress in recovery, they become shining women of courage and hope for others. The recovery process is truly transformational.

 

Editor’s Note: Brenda J. Iliff is the executive director of Hazelden in Naples, Florida, a part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. They can be reached at 866-261-3734.