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The link between abuse and addiction in women

The link between trauma due to histories of suffering from violence and/or addiction to drugs or alcohol is often overlooked and unrecognized in the medical community for women as much as men. Studies show that 55 to 99 percent of women with co-occurring disorders experienced some degree of trauma and are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors. (Covington; Burke; Keaton; Norcott 2008) Research also shows that clinical services that address women’s specific issues are more successful in treating addiction and are more effective for women than clinical services that were originally designed for men. (Abbott & Kerr, 1995; Carten, 1996)

The population of women with abusive and violent pasts who have consequently turned to drugs and alcohol is grossly under-represented. Although violence and abuse doesn’t discriminate among socio-economic classes, less affluent women who have become victims of trauma through violence and abuse are often raised in lower economic classes and lack the skills or finances for getting the help they need.

External factors such as being subjected to past abuse and injustice is directly related to treating the female addict, as her social conditions are a direct influence on the help that will be available to her. According to Dr. Stephanie Covington, Ph.D., from Columbia University, social and environmental factors (including gender socialization, gender roles and gender inequality) account for many of the behavioral differences between women and men. “Gender differences are neither innate nor unchangeable; they are ascribed by society and relate to expected social roles, so it’s important to acknowledge some of the dynamics in a gendered society.” (Covington 2008)

As a result of psychotherapists’ continuing to be autonomous in the therapeutic models they prefer to utilize with patients, the mental health and medical fields still greatly fail to place enough recognition on the physical, mental and emotional abuse that most female addicts have endured in their lives. (Messina, Grella 2006) One study found that 74 percent of addicted women reported sexual abuse; 52 percent reported physical abuse and 72 percent reported emotional abuse. Further, these women were found to have been abused sexually, physically and emotionally by more perpetrators, more often and for longer periods of time than their non-addicted counterparts. More incidents of incest and rape were also reported by the women who dealt with addiction. (Covington & Kohen 1984:42)

Women’s integrated treatment model (WIT)

There are three fundamental theories underlying Dr. Covington’s Women’s Integrated Treatment model (WIT) model. These theories include relational-cultural theory, addiction theory and trauma theory. WIT’s model is also based on gender responsive principles, theoretical foundation principles and multidimensional therapeutic interventions.

  • Gender responsive principles: These principles are an acknowledgement of how and where gender roles make a difference in the way a woman is treated, as well as the societal support offered to her when she is in need. Gender responsive principles seek to create safe environments based on respect and dignity; foster policies, procedures and practices that result in healthy relationships and promote healthy connections to children, family and significant others. They also offer services relevant to the mental health, trauma and abuse issues of various women; provide women with opportunities to improve their socioeconomic conditions and lastly establish a system of comprehensive and collaborative community services.
  • Theoretical foundation principles: These are based on relational cultural theory, addiction theory and trauma theory. Relational cultural theory suggests that the motivating factor for women is establishing close relationships in life and therefore focuses on the relationships women have in their lives. Addiction theory recognizes the sociological perspectives of how addiction to drugs or alcohol manifests. This idea also emphasizes the importance of placing recognition upon the family, community and sociological perspectives of the addicted person. Trauma theory is based on the “Trauma – Informed Approach” which, according to SAMHSA, realizes the widespread impact of trauma, recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma, responds by integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures and practices and seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.
  • Multidimensional therapeutic interventions: These interventions involve brief therapy sessions that motivate the client to see that a problem exists and then work to direct the client towards a solution.

For female addicts, abuse of any kind can very well contribute to the pattern of self-medication. While the correlation between abuse and addiction is purely theoretical, these studies and others show there have been enough cases of addiction in the lives of abused women to confirm the need to address the issue.

The abuse against women in the home, workplace or in general must be acknowledged to accurately treat and tend to the addictions that women may struggle with. For more information on how to receive therapy or treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, please call the Recovery Helpline at 855-441-4405 today.

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