Women and Substance Abuse

Q&A with Audrey Klein, executive director of the Butler Center for Research

While it may be no surprise to you that women can be alcoholics and addicts just like men—there had been surprisingly little research on the very real differences in substance use, abuse, addiction and treatment until the mid-90s. Since then, researchers have uncovered a number of critical differences between men and women in what was once believed to be a "male issue."

In this Q&A, Audrey Klein, PhD, the executive director of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's Butler Center for Research, comments on the latest Research Update, "Women and Substance Abuse."

Q. What is the primary message you would like professionals to glean from the latest information?

A. Women face their own set of unique issues when it comes to the development of addiction and the process of recovering from the disease. The issues that women face should be addressed in treatment whenever possible to give them the best chance of successful recovery.

Q. What data either surprised you or was the most significant in treating addiction in women?

A. Women have a multitude of challenges in recovery, many of which stem from playing multiple roles (wife, mother, caregiver, being a professional in the workplace). It also surprised me that women often progress into addiction much more quickly than men and tend to have more serious consequences (including physical problems) from use/abuse.

Q. Why was addiction once considered only a "male issue"?

A. Not an easy thing to answer. Many women were and still are afraid of the stigma surrounding the disease and may be hesitant to admit they have a problem. Research on addiction also had a gender bias for a long time; where women were not studied. This probably contributed to the perception that it was largely a male issue. We know better now!

Q. What trends might be foreseen within the findings?

A. Hard to say. I think that the findings will increase the knowledge that alcohol and drug addiction affects many women and that recovery for women is possible, provided the people in need of treatment seek help.

Read the full Research Update

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