Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Ask the Experts 2016
Ask the Expert: Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
Q: What trends are you seeing related to addiction, particularly among women?
A: While men have historically had the higher reported incidence of alcohol and other drug dependence, women are closing the gap. Most recently, we’ve seen a troubling escalation in addiction to opioids—prescription painkillers and heroin—among teenage girls and young women.
Q: Do other mental health issues commonly occur in combination with addiction?
A: Nearly all patients who receive treatment for addiction at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation also have a co-occurring mental health condition such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. For women, the likelihood of multiple co-occurring conditions is greater. With treatment, an integrated approach is key—simultaneously addressing the substance use disorder along with any co-occurring mental health conditions.
The main thing is to reach out for help. Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease, but it can be effectively treated and managed.
Q: Does the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation approach treatment any differently for women compared with men?
A: Yes. For a number of reasons supported by both research and our own experience, we provide separate programming for women and men. First, some women tend to defer to men in mixed gender therapeutic groups. It’s a situation that undermines the ability of women to have their therapeutic needs addressed. Second, women tend to bond with one another in the treatment setting more quickly than men, engaging more readily in discussions about difficult emotional issues—family problems, relationships, trauma, personal history. This openness and vulnerability is an important aspect of treatment. And third, because the majority of women with addiction have a history of sexual trauma, it is of paramount importance to create a therapeutic environment where patients feel safe and supported.
Q: Does addiction affect women differently than men?
A: Women experience medical complications earlier in the addiction process than men do. Using the exact same amounts of alcohol as men, women are at greater risk of developing liver disease, brain damage and cardiovascular disease. Use of other substances is equally problematic. Yet, despite the heightened risk, women are far less likely to enter treatment than men. Both stigma and practical concerns—responsibilities for the family, household, and career—prevent too many women from receiving the help they need.
Q: What's the first step for getting help?
A: Loved ones really need to take the reins because, generally speaking, the individual with addiction isn’t fully aware of her problem. Left to her own devices, an individual with addiction isn’t likely to seek help. My advice is to schedule an evaluation with an addiction professional. It’s much more palatable, up-front, to propose a single appointment with a specialist than six weeks at a treatment program. Based on types of drugs being used, patterns of use, physical and mental health and other issues, the evaluation process will identify whether treatment makes sense and—if so—what type. If scheduling an in-person evaluation seems too daunting, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation offers free, phone-based assessments. The main thing is to reach out for help. Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease, but it can be effectively treated and managed.