“A woman is like a tea bag. You can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Too often when professionals talk about addiction and other behavioral health issues among women, we share only half the story. We lament about the toll they take on our female patients and their family’s well being. We pine over the obstacles to treatment and long-term recovery- and we forget to share the incredible narratives of their success.
I must confess that I’m guilty of that which I’m criticizing. As an expert for the Dr. Oz Show and a guest on Katie Couric’s show, I’ve discussed at length the unique challenges women face when dealing with addiction. Just recently, I spoke at a conference in London on this very issue to over 200 professionals from around the world.
In reviewing my remarks, I was shocked to find I’d devoted around 80% of my time discussing women’s vulnerabilities and a paltry 10% discussing their strengths. Fortunately, I realized the errors of my ways before taking the podium and devoted my time celebrating the sharpness of the female mind, the resiliency of her body and generosity of her spirit, traits the give women an upper hand in reclaiming not just their own well being, but also the well being of their families.
The academic research and my clinical experience unequivocally show that women enjoy higher rates of recovery than men and transcend their gender-based challenges with a deep resolve and strength of character.
– Paul Hokemeyer
And my comments were not based on wishful thinking. The academic research and my clinical experience unequivocally show that women enjoy higher rates of recovery than men and transcend their gender-based challenges with a deep resolve and strength of character. Yes women have challenges, but so does everyone else when they decide to address their addictions. The real news is how extraordinarily well women succeed with their task.
The top reasons for their success are as follows:
Women progress more quickly from using an addictive substance to dependence, addiction and treatment than men. As a result, they get themselves into recovery programs much faster than their male counterparts. This hastened pace with which they seek help spares them and their loved ones years of physical decay and emotional heartache.
- Mental Health Issues
Women suffer from higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders than men. These underlying conditions have established and highly effective treatment strategies that can be immediately implemented to provide enormous relief. Once these issues are addressed, women are much more likely to take an honest look at their addiction.
- Relationship Oriented
Women are more likely than men to use self-help programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and are also more likely than men to benefit from the group therapy model that’s utilized in treatment. They are quick to ask for help and listen to the advice that’s given. They chose the long term well being of their family over their short term discomfort and are able to subrogate their pride and egos to the good of the family unit.
- Higher Rates of Success
Women and men are equally likely to complete treatment, but the women who complete are 9x more likely to be abstinent than women who didn’t. Women have a much greater capacity to stick with the challenges presented by treatment once they make the commitment to change. Even though the first few months of recovery are hard, they see how their efforts are benefiting those around them and stay committed to the task.
- Lower Incidence of Relapse
Women in substance abuse treatment are less likely to relapse than men in treatment and have better long-term recovery outcomes. Women are better at following directions then men. Unlike men, they can put their egos off to the side and see how their commitment to change will benefit their family and their selves.
The Female Success Story
Never forget that, in the realm of recovery from addictive disorders, women are models of success, strong cups of tea and inspirational change agents. Moving forward, I’m resolved to do a better job in celebrating these strengths instead of just focusing on their problems. I suggest you do the same.
If you know a woman who’s struggling with an addiction or mental health issue, forward her this article. Based on the research and my nearly two decades working in the field, she’ll take your efforts to heart and be grateful that you care.
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