Stigma is the disapproval or even discrimination against people based on perceived social characteristics. It is singling out a subgroup of society and distinguishing them from other members of society in a negative light. Across cultures, women have been subjected to many forms of stigma. A mental health condition or substance addiction may become an additional burden that promises more societal stigma, especially for women.
Why do women tend to face more stigma for addiction? Understanding this question can raise the public’s awareness, combat social stigma, and improve the chance of successful treatment for people who have been impacted by stigmatization.
Why Are Women at Higher Risk for Substance Addiction?
The reasons women are at higher risk of developing substance use are many and complicated. Among the many factors, one is that women are more likely than men to have chronic pain, which sometimes enables them to get certain prescription drugs. Additionally, women tend to transition faster from substance use or misuse to full-on addiction. These easy accessibility conditions can then interact with other co-occurring mental health needs, such as depression, anxiety, and compulsive disorders to make women more susceptible to substance use disorder.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there has been such a dramatic increase in maternal opioid use that, in the United States, there is a baby born with opioid withdrawal every 15 minutes. Opioid addiction among pregnant women put an intensified strain on the foster care system in many states after more and more children were removed from homes with mothers who have an opioid addiction.
Why Is There More Stigma for Women?
Women who have an addiction tend to experience more pronounced social stigma. Society thinks it is less socially acceptable for women than men to use drugs and alcohol, in part because of their role as child-bearers. Those who have an addictive habit tend to be viewed as having a moral failure. Mothers who have substance addiction come up against an even harsher kind of judgment and stigmatization because their actions may seriously and negatively impact their children.
More barriers exist to women seeking treatment than just social stigma. For example, some women struggle with leaving the care of their children to someone else when they are offered a treatment opportunity. Many are afraid that once their addiction is made known, their children may be taken away from them. Society considers women who use drugs while pregnant as extremely irresponsible. Therefore, women who find themselves addicted to drugs and alcohol are often shamed and discouraged from seeking treatment.
How Do You Fight Off Stigmatization for Women?
Women tend to hide or deny their addiction as a way to escape social criticism. The poverty of material means and social support can lock them into a helpless state. To combat stigma against women who have addiction problems, everyone has a role to play. One important aspect is the use of caring language when referring to women who have an addiction. One should be aware enough to not perpetuate society’s prescribed gender roles on women.
The use of language should be guided by compassion and care for their wellbeing, since language and choice of words matter. As health professionals suggest, using “person-first language maintains the integrity of individuals as whole human beings,” and “removing language that equates people to their condition or has negative connotations.” What this means is using the person first and then stating their condition after. For example, use “a woman with an addiction,” rather than “an addicted woman.” This way, you recognize them as who they are first, and their struggle second.
There are other ways to raise awareness on this issue. First of all, understand there is always a story behind each woman who struggles with substance addiction. Sometimes it has to do with domestic violence or sexual abuse. The trauma itself can be unbearable, and many women rely on drugs or alcohol to deal with the pain. There should be more support from the community towards victims and survivors of violence.
Secondly, there ought to be more gender-specific addiction treatment plans, which take into consideration women’s unique needs as individuals and as mothers. A women’s treatment plan should be designed to meet the needs of some deeper issues, such as trauma, self-esteem, and parenting concerns. Relapse prevention also needs to consider a range of factors that play in a woman’s life. Treatment centers can also offer gender-specific therapy options which use a trauma-informed approach. These specialized, gender-sensitive programs may also integrate sexual health care for women with needs.
Are you concerned about how social stigmatization surrounding substance addiction keeps people from getting treatment? Do you know how to fight off this kind of stigma? Understanding how stigma forms and ways to combat it is an important step when supporting a loved one’s recovery. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists will help you build a strong support network that fights off social stigma. We know social perceptions may prevent you from seeking treatment, but we are a supportive and welcoming place to work through your addiction. Our residential facility offers a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, 12-step programs, and custom-made treatment plans. We also provide outpatient programs that address a range of mental health issues. Count on us to guide you through coping with addiction and the stigma surrounding it. Call us at (866) 906-3203. We are eager to see you recover and fully embrace your true self.