Are you ready to start your journey to recovery, but not sure where to start or what questions to ask? Don’t worry! I’m here to help.
As a clinician at Stonegate Center, a drug and alcohol rehab just west of Fort Worth, I’ve been asked every rehab-related question you can think of.
Some are easy to answer like Where are you located? And others are quite funny like Can I bring my pet snake to treatment? But the majority of them require much more complex and thought out responses – especially when it comes to women’s issues.
Although I pride myself on helping both genders with substance use disorders (SUD), it’s my female friends that are often left without resources. And, frankly, that’s frightening especially since addiction hurts millions of women in the U.S.
And, that’s why I wrote this article. To help any sister, mother, daughter, or niece struggling with chemical dependency and looking for answers. In it, I’ll elaborate on some of the most frequently asked questions I get on a day-to-day basis working in the field.
The healing begins now, so let’s dive in and get you sober. Here’s a list of 4 questions you need to ask your clinician about woman-centered rehab programs for addiction.
#1 Why Should I Go To A Women-Centered Rehab?
Gender-separate and female-friendly programs are a must for effective recovery. The data even shows that successful outcomes tend to favor programs that focus on women-specific issues like trauma, sexual abuse, domestic violence, children and homelife, etc.
But it hadn’t always been like that.
Women’s addictions had previously been met with silence. It was taboo. It was shushed. It was swept under the rug, and us girls were told to ignore it. Astonishingly, back in the ’50s it was illegal to depict a woman drinking in a movie or an advertisement.
Now, women are the first thing you see in a halftime show or Super Bowl commercial.
But women-specific issues weren’t just minimized for folks to see on the big screen. Sadly, when it came to how we should help women addicted to drugs or alcohol, addiction treatment professionals were left shrugging their shoulders.
Addiction treatment options were extremely limited, and it didn’t get any better until the late ‘60s and the start of the Women’s Rights Movement before people started taking our health – and our susceptibility towards addiction – more seriously.
Addiction Treatment Programming…
Was Based Exclusively Upon
The Experiences of Men.
The start of Alcoholics Anonymous showed that the AA program was designed by men for men. And kudos to them because it was highly effective in helping men recover from alcoholism.
Yet eventually, female alcoholics joined the fray. The success rate, though, was much lower and folks didn’t understand why. Were women not following the Steps? No, not at all. This difference in success can be attributed to the fact that recovery programs were essentially Good Ole Boys Clubs.
In other words, almost all of the addiction treatment programming that had been created was based exclusively upon the experiences of men. They focused on how men drank, why they reached for the bottle, and what they did because of their underlying behavioral issues. So, these programs were quite ineffective for women, who had vastly different experiences and issues.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s women started to raise awareness in regard to substance use disorders (SUD) and other taboo subjects such as incest and domestic violence. And finally, Congress got the message.
Loud and clear.
The government funded specialized women’s treatment for the first time in 1976, and initiatives laid the foundation for understanding the treatment of women in a different light. These programs showed that women would find and maintain treatment when it was holistic (addressing all aspects of the person).
This means that it addresses a broad range of topics such a sexuality, violence, and life management skills. Treatment programs that foster a climate of safety and “being real” allow clients to reconnect with themselves and others. This adds incredible support toward long-term sobriety after treatment.
So, you should go to a gender-specific treatment program because men and women are different. Although it effects both genders, it doesn’t do so equally. Gender-specific recovery plans have distinct advantages in that they are sensitive to the needs of women or men and are able to implement effective treatment programs as such.
Addiction rehabs for women like Stonegate Center Hilltop provide that individualized care that women need in order to achieve long-term sobriety. But wherever you go, it’s important that your drug and alcohol rehab-of-choice pays close attention to your needs as a woman.
If they try to lump you into the same category as the men, I have one piece of advice: run.
#2 What Kind of Proof Do You Have That a Women’s Only Treatment Center is Better for Me?
There are many major academic theories and models that women may want to know about when it comes to understanding their addiction. My Top 3 are as follows:
1. Theoretical Integration
2. Disease vs. Choice Argument
3. Relational Model
But don’t get bogged down with the oh-so-boring, scholarly titles! I’ve done all the research for you and am happy to share my SparkNotes version with you.
Current research articles indicate that treatment programs that address women’s unique needs such as their relationships, connections and any history of trauma or abuse are far more effective than traditional programming.
According to modern-day research, when treatment addresses emotions, thoughts, behaviors and spirituality, women stay sober at significant rate after treatment. According to Dr. Stephanie Covington, the numbers can be as high as 80% for long term sobriety. This can be achieved in many therapeutic ways, but the top 5 are below…
First up is theoretical integration. This is based upon the knowledge that most female addicts have a history of substance abuse in early adolescence, developmental delays caused by unhealthy relationships, and traumas like abuse, poverty and racism.
Theoretical integration is a fancy way of saying, “One size does not fit all.” In other words, since each person is unique, their needs are unique and their treatment should be unique also. Clinicians can draw from several theories (Ways to treat addiction) and integrate (Mix them together) them so each person’s program meets their specific needs. It is a great “recipe” for success in recovery.
The second important thing to understand is the Disease vs. Disorder argument. It’s not an approach to treatment per se. But understanding this debate could really shed some light into how addiction works in women.
Contrary to what the media portrays, addiction is not an issue of someone making bad choices, it is a genetic condition that turns into the disease when something stressful causes symptoms to come out. Treatment programs that take this view of addiction as a disease are, personally, more effective than those who view it as a choice.
That’s because staff are able to see the client as someone who is ill and needs help, rather than someone who is victim to their own moral failing.
The last effective model of addiction is the relational model. Relationships are at the core of who women see themselves to be. Connections are so crucial for females because much of their pain is rooted in a disconnect from other people. Programs like ours at Stonegate Center help grow community and connectedness for our clients.
Research shows that women will use drugs and alcohol in order to make or keep connections. It is shown that male partners can contribute to women’s substance abuse and hinder their recovery. Primarily this is because male partners often introduce women to drugs. And women start using to feel connected with their addicted partner.
This fact is supported by research from Raven James, Ed.D. , in which she suggests that the male partner is often a lady’s supplier when she is addicted. This is so bad for a relationship because drinking and drug use may become the only thing that couple does together.
Women Receive Less Support From Their Families
When Entering Rehab Than Men Do…
And That’s a BIG Problem.
I’ll wrap up this question by saying that women addicted to drugs or alcohol often have painful experiences with men. They’ve been disappointed, abused, or manipulated and as such introducing a male into the community of a rehab center can be dangerous if not managed properly.
These women, like our clients at Hilltop, long for love but are scarred from physical or emotional abuse. And that’s why they turn to drugs and alcohol: to numb the pain of these realities.
I have seen in my professional experience that women receive less support from their families when entering rehab than men do. Women are also pressured to stay as little time in treatment as possible because of the role they play in running the home and adding to the household money. And, frankly, that’s a BIG problem in today’s world.
When programs include kindness and understanding, a sense of belonging comes over the community and the clients are empowered. Safe and honest relationships cause much growth and also give the client increased love of life, increased self-worth, and a desire for better connections with others. This paired with the practice of vulnerability is a recipe for success in long-term sobriety and continued healing.
And that is why women-centered programs are more effective than mixed ones.
#3 I Have Been keeping to myself for so long, how am I going to connect with other women in treatment?
Vulnerability is directly linked to – and beautifully coupled with – connection. As was addressed in the previous answer, connectedness is a key component of successful treatment programming for women.
According to Brene Brown, Ph.D., connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. She suggests that what we know about connection is that the ability and desire to feel connected is part of how we’re wired as people.
She noted in her research that she discovered when she asked people about love they would speak of heartbreak. When she asked people about belonging, they would talk about exclusion. And when she asked them about connection, the stories told were about disconnection.
Dr. Brown’s work can be a beautiful component of the tapestry of an effective program of addiction treatment for women. A program that supports vulnerability in a safe and judgement-free place will allow you to finally express feelings, stories, secrets and wounds that you might have been medicating for decades.
Women Need to Know That
What Makes You Broken,
Also Makes You Beautiful.
One of the strongest benefits of embracing vulnerability is that one can come to a point where they rise above their shame and they recognize that what makes them vulnerable also makes them extraordinary. Dr. Brown attests, and I agree, that speaking of vulnerability does not always make us comfortable. For most of us, it can actually be terrifying and painful.
In treatment, the one thing that is certain is that being vulnerable is essential to work towards healing and sobriety. It is necessary. We need to be willing to do something where there is no known result; we need to be willing to experience a negative or frightening emotion and breathe and pray through the process.
A strong program will provide staff and community support, positive coping tools, and encourage you to use 12 Step Work. Christian programs such as ours here at Stonegate also incorporate Scripture and Bible study as tools to move through the stages of change and healing. That’s why we use your individual experience to showcase your internal beauty.
In other words, I’m a firm believer that more women need to know that what makes you broken, also makes you beautiful.
The Bible is called “The Sword” for a reason: it is the only offensive weapon when putting on the armor of God. It is a useful and effective weapon in the battle toward and beyond recovery.
#4 I’m Really Embarrassed to Talk About How I Act When I Am Using Drugs and Alcohol. How Can I deal with My Shame and Do Well in Treatment?
What you are describing is what Dr. Brown discovered in her research… shame. She talked about it as an “unnamed thing”. It “completely unravels connection” in a cunning and baffling way. I have seen this in my private practice and found her research very compelling. She gave this phenomenon a name and she called it “shame”.
Shame Leads to Isolation. And Addiction
Thrives Upon That isolation.
Dr. Brown says that shame is basically the fear of being disconnected from others. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we also have this fear. Some common questions I get in my practice regarding shame include:
- Is there something wrong with me?
- If others see what is wrong with me, will they reject me?
- Am I not enough?
- What if I lose everything when I get honest with people?
- What if this actually is the real me?
Shame is very difficult to talk about and especially with substance abuse disorders. However, the less we talk about it, the more shame builds up. The more times we tell our story of shame (Even though it’s super cringe-worthy), the more ownership we have of it and the less power the shame has over us.
It is super important that treatment occurs in a space where individuals, many of whom are sober for the first time in years, are able to experience their own emotions, fears and shame. For the first time they can do so without then turning to drugs or alcohol.
Effective programs will allow us to experience uncomfortable emotions and then stretch ourselves out of the comfort zone. This allows us to sit with those emotions and experience them while using positive things like prayer, scripture, Step Work and self-talk. These experiences build the “emotional muscles” required for staying sober after we get out of treatment. Meaning, good coping strategies become an automatic response to stress and feelings of disconnection rather than substance use.
You have to work through shame to get better! Once we can become vulnerable and honest in sharing our shame, true healing can begin. When this healing begins the community can rally around each other and lean on the staff to help each person develop a sense of worthiness. Dr. Brown states that people who have a sense of worthiness also will cultivate a strong sense of love and belonging.
This is extraordinarily powerful in the treatment setting because for the first time, clients can actually make real connections, be their real selves, and feel safe in practicing life without hiding behind substance use. It is incredibly freeing to feel all of the emotions that have been numbed for far too long.
Doing this kind of hard work takes extraordinary courage. It seems that a paradox will arrive in the process of working a treatment program. Clients must learn to cultivate the courage to be imperfect.
Call Me If You Need Help With Your Addiction!
I hope these questions helped shine some light into the different problems, issues, and even shame that women experience when it comes to addiction. And, I hope they also highlight the fact that individualized and gender-specific treatment, for us ladies, is vital for success.
If you or your sister, daughter, niece, or wife is struggling with chemical dependency and are in the Fort Worth, Texas or surrounding areas like Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Louisiana, give us a call! My team is ready to accept your call day and night at (817) 993-9733 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is hope! I promise. All you have to do is reach out and get it. And if you call in and are a little nervous, just ask for me by name. I’d be happy to field your call and answer more of your rehab- and addiction-related questions.
Dr. Laurel Strahan received her Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology from Texas Woman’s University. She earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling from the University of Tulsa and her undergraduate degree from Texas Tech University. Laurel has over 25 years of experience providing psychotherapy to those who struggle with Depression, Women’s Issues, Grief, Trauma and Addiction. She specializes in faith-based therapy, anxiety disorders, interpersonal disconnect, addiction-related issues, complicated grief/loss and direct behavioral intervention. Her theoretical orientation is a strength-based, client-focused positive psychology. Through her experience in working in addiction treatment centers, she has been able to use her knowledge of addiction-related issues for both the client and others affected by the disease. She ascribes to a non-judgmental, Cognitive behavioral therapeutic approach to psychotherapy.