Do women face more challenges than men in recovery?

Traci-Watson-founder-of-Sisters-Circle-Womens-Support-Network, Do women face more challenges than men in recovery?, Culture Currents
Traci Watson founded Sister’s Circle Women’s Support Network to help women get the recovery support they need in a culture that stigmatizes addiction in mothers and largely disregards women’s mental health.

by Traci L. Watson, Founder, Sister’s Circle Women’s Support Network, Inc.

Women and men experience differences in how they navigate recovery. While men are less apt to look for community support, women often struggle to find the right group to fit in with because they may have childcare issues, have mental health issues to deal with, or struggle with shame. Once a woman overcomes barriers to treatment, she can still fight for sobriety and push past the obstacles. 

Women statistically struggle to recover from addiction more than men. According to the data, men abuse drugs and alcohol at higher rates than women – 11.5 percent of males over 12 years old have substance use disorder as compared to 6.4 percent of women. 

Some believe that the number of women with substance abuse issues is greatly underestimated due to the social barriers women face to a larger degree than men when seeking treatment, including childcare responsibilities, addiction stigma, lower income and relationship dynamics. 

In the past year, 22 percent of males and 17 percent of females have used drugs. This data suggests that the percentage of women with substance use may actually be considerably higher and closer to the percentage for men. 

Put simply: It is much more challenging for women to access and engage in substance abuse treatment than it is for men. Consequently, there are probably many more women suffering from addiction than are diagnosed with substance use. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, only 20 percent of the people seeking treatment last year were women. See more at

Women generally show a quicker progression from first using substances until they develop dependence.

There are also differences between men and women dealing with addiction. For example, women generally show a quicker progression from first using substances until they develop dependence. Most data suggests that outcomes for men and women are similar after engaging in treatment. 

However, what does differ in men and women are the factors related to relapse. For women, relapse tends to be more sporadic – not relating to a specific trigger or intent but related to negative effects and prior physical and sexual abuse. It is believed that the negative effect may be related to women experiencing greater withdrawal symptoms for many substances. 

Alternatively, women may be more sensitive to stress and cues associated to their drug use, leading to relapse. Another difference between men and women in maintaining recovery is the amount of social support each receive. Men tend to receive more social support at home and at work and are less stigmatized by addiction, whereas women are stigmatized to a greater degree in society and tend to be more isolated or not supported by their partners and primary relationships in their decision to be clean and sober, living a life in recovery. 

Without being able to get help, women linger with addictive behaviors.

This too puts women at greater risk than men for relapse. There are many obstacles that pose a relapse risk, but, dealt with appropriately, women can face them with dignity.

Mental health

Unaddressed mental health issues are a big concern for women in recovery. Without proper diagnosis, women can linger with health issues and complications of mental health concerns for too long. 


Women with addiction may face social stigma as mothers, which makes it harder to seek treatment. Without being able to get help, women linger with addictive behaviors much longer and find it harder to get help quitting drugs or alcohol as a result. 

Coping mechanisms

Addiction treatment does not provide training on how to cope with depression, anger or conflict resolution. When it comes to those skills, women need additional support. 

Body concerns

Of all the issues women face, they reconcile most with body image concerns. Some women may abuse drugs to lose weight, some may have body dysmorphic disorder or anorexia. 

Not caring

Sometimes women just give up trying to get help because it is too hard. Perhaps they have small children at home, they care for other family members, or need extra attention paid to other things. 

Necessary treatment

When women go in for treatment, they need support. Healthy relationships are important and provide the support they need to thrive. 

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Positive Directions Equals Change, a community-based organization in the Bayview, offers classes and support groups each day of the week. 

If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at 415-401-0199 or email our team at The schedule is below and all are welcome. 

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Positive Directions Equals Change is for everybody. Get the help you need and sign up for a virtual group recovery session to expand your network of healing and self-love for yourself and those around you.

Traci Watson, founder of Sister’s Circle Women’s Support Network, can be reached by email at twatson@sisterscircle.netSister’s Circle Women’s Support Network, Inc., “Women Supporting Women,” can be reached by phone at 415-261-2944 and in person at 1140 Oak St., San Francisco, CA 94117.