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According to NSDUH, in 2019 14.1 million adults aged 18 and older were suffering from alcohol addiction. An estimated 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. But the numbers don’t account for how alcohol use impacts people as individuals.
Addiction is a multifaceted experience with ups and downs that differ for everyone. Every alcoholic has a different story. Every drink is an attempt to hide, bury or forget something different. This individualized nature of addiction results in the effects being different for everyone, though there are some commonalities among certain groups.
According to studies, women are more prone to certain harmful effects of alcohol use than men. To start, women absorb and metabolize alcohol differently. This means that women achieve higher blood alcohol concentrations and, after drinking similar alcohol quantities, become more impaired than men. This is due to the fact that women have less water in their bodies than men of equal bodyweight, which decreases the amount of consumption needed to reach an unsafe blood alcohol centration. In addition, women are more vulnerable to alcohol-related organ harm than men.
Research shows that there is also a great divide in preexisting traumas. It has been widely documented that women who reported childhood sexual abuse and experience with sexual harrassment are more likely to have alcohol-related issues. Women who have a history of childhood sexual trauma tend to have more alcohol dependency and abuse signs than women who do not.
In addition to childhood trauma, women who use alcohol also experience verbal and physical abuse from their domestic partners more than that of men. One study showed that extreme partner abuse (e.g., kicking, hitting, or threatening with a weapon) was witnessed by substantially more women seeking alcoholism treatment than other women in the group. Though these co-occurring diagnoses and traumas are seen with men who use alcohol, they are seen at a much higher rate for women.
Though women experience alcoholism differently from men, there are many treatment options available. Women no longer need to suffer with alcoholism along with its effects and serious trauma. Rehabs and treatment centers around the country create wellness plans for their patients that address the addiction and the physical and emotional abuse that often contributes.
It is important to remember that when seeking treatment for alcohol abuse or dependency that withdrawal is a mandatory step in recovery. There is a common misconception that detoxing from alcohol is easier than other substances when in reality it is equally as dangerous. Choosing to take this step at a rehab facility ensures a patient’s health and safety and sets them up for success as they pursue sobriety.
It is common for people with alcohol addiction to develop a physical and emotional dependency on alcohol. If your body has been adjusted to heavy drinking habits for some time, the brain can take a considerable amount of time to make the physical and emotional changes needed to maintain sobriety. This includes the physical side effects of withdrawal which generally occur during the first week of detox and includes the emotional side effects which are best addressed in therapy and with support from a program like AA.
There are many treatment centers that offer specific treatment programs and facilities for women. This allows women to feel more safe and relaxed while they work through treatment. Additionally, the societal pressures that women traditionally face differ from that of men. Partaking in group work that keeps this in mind allows clients to be more open and connect more honestly while pursuing treatment.
One of the most common recommendations for women leaving rehab is to get into a 12-Step Program or network of support groups that meet regularly. Simply put, this works.
Coming out of rehab and pursuing a sober lifestyle means making a lot of changes. Socially, it may not be comfortable to spend time with all of the same people or to go to the same places or engage in activities that were fun before. And for women with children who are looking to distance themselves from their old groups, disruptions to the child’s friendships also must be considered. This creates an additional layer of emotional weight for women to carry while in sobriety. There are also pressures associated with body image, shame, and child-rearing that men do not experience in the same way.
Leaning into support groups and networking to create your own support circle can help alleviate the additional stress and difficulties that newly sober women face post-rehab.