By Rebecca Flood, MHS, LCADC, NCACII, BRI II,
Executive Director/CEO New Directions for Women
Addiction strikes people regardless of economic, financial, or social backgrounds; addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer. Despite its indiscriminate nature, studies show women are far less likely than men to seek treatment. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2007 almost 7 million women were found to need addiction treatment services. Of those women almost 6.5 million women or 93.7 percent felt they didn’t need treatment with 6.3 percent believing they did need treatment but only 1.7 percent or 118,000 women pursued treatment. Numbers like this are alarming and show how chemical addiction in women is truly an epidemic. In the U.S. our government spends millions protecting our borders, airports and overall infrastructure while we’ve got what I believe to be one of the largest domestic terrorists running rampant throughout the country and that’s alcohol and other drugs.
I believe chemical addiction in women has grown rampant due to the lack of focus on women’s needs in addressing addiction. Over the last half century we have seen the birth and evolution of addiction therapy from the Minnesota Model of 1949 which focused on 28 day treatment programs for men, to treatment programs today that last last between 90 and 120 days and are gender separate.
When addiction treatment began 60 years ago, the conventional wisdom was that people were addicted to drugs and alcohol for different reasons. There were no initial studies on how the disease was affected by gender differences or how gender differences impacted treatment and recovery. Today we realize drug and alcohol addiction is part of the same disorder. Over the past twenty years research has shown that both men and women have different responses to both addiction and treatment. That’s why research shows such a higher success rate in gender separate treatment programs. These types of pioneer programs began sprouting up in later half of the 20th century and were not seen as needed or important until the 1990s and were notably successful for recognizing:
- Men and women have different physical and emotional responses to chemical dependency
- Men and women have different metabolic rates, and require far different needs and approaches to the recovery process.
- Women, especially mothers, suffer from far more guilt and emotional stress than male addicts who have children and are often unable to care for themselves and don’t seek help for their addiction. Other exterior forces can impact the recovery process much more acutely for women than men, including:
- Media attention about HIV exposed infants being abandoned by mothers
- Welfare to work reform movement
- High profile child welfare cases involving substance abuse
Over the last 20 years we have seen a great deal of success over addiction with gender separate treatment programs for women. Women do better in gender separate addiction recovery programs because they are often able to focus on issues that will ultimately affect their recovery. Many women also enter treatment with a variety of issues that have yet to be dealt with but will ultimately affect their ability to stay sober. Gender separate treatment allows for women to address these issues in a safe and nurturing environment. I have seen gender separate treatment work for women time and time again. Thirty years ago when I entered the field, to today as a residential treatment facility administrator, I have found gender separate treatment to be a determining factor in keeping both men and women sober and clean.
While tremendous progress has been made in the field over the past 20 years and we have bridged many gaps in treatment, there continues to be opportunity for continued growth because there are so many addicts seeking or needing help in the fight against their disease.
As the Vice President of Treatment Services at Seabrook House, I was the primary designer and implementer of MatriArk which was one of 14 federally funded trial comprehensive gender separate addiction treatment program for women in America. MatriArk began in 1993 and the program was designed to help women through the recovery process in a safe, non-threatening environment.
This and the other demonstration programs paved the way for countless other treatment facilities to create their own gender separate treatment programs.
In the history of addiction treatment for women one of the most courageous feats to me is the innovation shown by the founders of New Directions for Women, Pam Wilder, Muriel Zink and Marion Schoen. These women didn’t have any special funding or research telling them that gender separate treatment worked, they just intuitively knew in their hearts that women needed a gender separate environment to achieve long term, responsible recovery.
Today New Directions for Women has continued the spirit of the founders and built upon its basics by continuing to use research and evidence based best practices in all their services. The following are the program components of what we use at New Directions:
- ·A holistic program dealing with the entire family system and all its “roles”
- ·Family support: Women in treatment need support from their family and continued support outside of the treatment facility
- ·Traceable results, all parts must be documented and followed over time to indicate the outcome of their use
- ·Eclectic-multidisciplinary approaches being used effectively
- ·12-Step foundation
- ·Cogitative Behavior Therapy
- ·Seeking Safety
- ·Matrix Model
- ·A Variety of Experiential Therapies such as:
- Equine Therapy
- Psycho Drama
- Ropes Course
- Healing Arts
- Japanese Meditation
Since the beginning of gender separate programs like MatriArk, we have seen positive results with women in recovery due to being treated in gender separate addiction programs at New Directions. Between June 2006 and July 2007 87 patients were released from New Directions of which 52 patients or 60 percent answered a follow-up survey. In this survey we found that in the first six months after discharge there was an 87 percent reduction in the proportion of patients who used or abused alcohol, a 72 percent reduction in the use of methamphetamine and a 78 percent reduction in the use of marijuana. In this same group we also saw 91 percent fewer patients that experienced an increase in stress from alcohol or drug use and 88 percent fewer patients said they were forced to give up routine activities because of alcohol or drug use. In addition to the decline in drug use or affect on an alumni’s daily life we’ve also seen an increase in their well being. Between admission and six months after discharge from New Directions 70 percent or more of these patients rated their physical and emotional health as “very good” or “excellent.”
As more and more patients continue to thrive in the model of gender separate treatment and therapy, it’s our hope that more treatment centers adopt this style of recovery thus helping women suffering from an addictive disorder and giving them hope for long term sustained recovery.