Research shows that as a result of telescoping, two years of a woman’s alcohol or drug use equals ten years of a man. Women suffer from cirrhosis of the liver at two times greater a rate than men do. In addition, women have the earlier onset of Korsakoff Syndrome. This syndrome can occur at a much younger age for women than for men. As a result, women are entering treatment younger, and more physically ill. When a mature woman enters treatment, it is quite often that the assessment process requires evaluation of the physical, emotional, and spiritual well being of the patient. This process in and of itself can take longer, spanning out to weeks or months at a time just to review the severity of illness.
Why does this happen?
It is because we as treatment professionals do not know if the physical problems that we see as a woman enters into treatment are going to be exacerbated as she goes through withdrawal or detox. These substances often may be masking the severe physical effects of her addiction.
Denial of Addiction
Mature women going through an aging process experience denial of their addiction. The denial for her can be so severe. Because of the physical complications; the mature woman truly cannot see her illness. The family members of the identified patient feel frustrated because their loved one doesn’t have the ability to see her ailment. Mature women oftentimes have cognitive impairments as a result of their usage. As treatment professionals, we understand that denial is a part of this disease that many addicts suffer from. A mature woman who has had no long periods of recovery in her lifetime will experience a multiplied sense of denial.
A Story of Denial
Take for example an intervention that our CEO Rebecca Flood MHS, LCADC, NCACII, BRI II, performed on a mature woman. This woman was in her mid 60’s. She had a gin bottle that sat right next to her as we did the intervention and she said, “I don’t drink.” And she literally meant it. The family and I both saw that the bottle was empty. This intervention required that a police Psychiatric Emergency Team be dispatched. Unfortunately, the woman was incoherent with no ability to care for herself and totally unable to see the reality of her situation. She did end up going to treatment. She got sober. But getting her to the place to even begin to start the process was extraordinarily difficult and the family had been dealing with her addiction for more than 15 years. It was the longest intervention that I have ever experienced.
Baby Boomers Entering Treatment
It’s vital that mature women receive gender separate treatment because of the time period that this woman grew up in. Most mature women entering recovery are what are known as Baby Boomers.
During this time, women had set roles and men had set roles. A lot of the issues and trauma related to women, had to do with societal expectations. Baby Boomer women experience multiple issues and traumas that are related to these expectations and the gender roles that they were prescribed and born into. Back then, there was a societal co-dependence that existed because women were the primary caretakers, not the primary breadwinners. We have found that this is an issue for the mature woman in treatment.
When working towards lifelong recovery, the mature woman needs to find her self-esteem, her power, and she needs to have a safe place to do that in. Regardless of the age of the addict, a woman will learn differently, she will experience differently, and she will heal differently. Research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy and experiential therapies can address trauma concurrently with addiction by identifying relationship issues.
The mature woman will also go through physical changes as her body begins to age. The physical breakdowns of her body and the acceptance of the aging process are all issues that a mature woman has to address as she gets older. Women experiencing menopause are prescribed many forms of medication. Although there are holistic treatments available oftentimes women are prescribed strong medications for the menopause process. A mature woman can also experience emotional challenges such as: depression, anxiety, forgetfulness, and fear. This is because the mature woman does not always understand what she is experiencing. These challenges can be triggers to one’s addiction if they are not fully addressed. Ensuring that a woman is comfortable with her body is vital to her lifelong recovery journey. Self esteem can begin to be affected in a way that a woman will say to herself, “there’s something that’s not right.” Being able to address these bodily changes with other women in a similar age range can be very helpful to the healing process.
Mature and elderly women in treatment tend to have a very different perspective on recovery than younger patients. This oftentimes there may be a greater sense of sacrifice and responsibility involved in their recovery process. Realization of one’s mortality, for obvious reasons, also tends to be stronger or more common in older women. Recovery may be more actively recognized as a matter of life and death.
Self care for the mature woman becomes very important. For a woman who is just entering into recovery, she may not know how to take care of herself. It is at this point that she has to catch up with what she has not been doing for the last twenty years. She will face challenges and come across opportunities as she enters into recovery. Most importantly, she must immerse herself in a community with other mature women, where she can alk about the aches, pains, fears, frustrations, and lack of memory. In doing this she will find clarity and sanity in her recovery process.
How Can We Help?
Our programs will focus on relevant, age-specific services. Mature women who are treated through these services are menopausal or premenopausal and it is important to address these changes in group sessions. It is continually important for clinicians to discuss the effect of hormones on the body and the recovery process with all age groups, but especially with mature women. Patients are regularly encouraged to check in with their bodies and emotional states, and to actively recognize the effect hormones may be having on the way she feels. This is emphasized in both group work as well as personal journaling exercises. New Directions for Women conducts specific age group therapy. This allows them to be more open and honest about the struggles she is facing.
Our mature woman program emphasizes exercise because working out plays a huge role in recovery. While older women may not always be eager to go to the gym or join in a game of organized sports, New Directions for Women encourages participation in less strenuous exercises such as yoga or walking. These are activities with low physical impact but high mental and emotional returns. Taking a walk offers the perfect opportunity for a patient to open up about any struggles or issues she may not have addressed. Keeping up this health practice after therapy ends will ensure that these stress-relieving measures help patients maintain sobriety in their new healthier lifestyle.