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Recovery: how is it different for women?

Gender bias is a real thing. There is the so-called “pink tax” in which products marketed to women tend to be more expensive than nearly identical products marketed to men. In the workplace, there are well-documented examples of unequal pay and glass ceilings. Examples of disparities between men and women abound. But what about gender disparities in recovery?

I’m often asked if it’s harder for women in recovery than it is for men. The answer is yes, and no. Both men and women suffer the shame and stigma, the fear of relapse, the burden of forging a different kind of life, the struggle to mend bridges and reconnect with family and friends. But there are subtle differences between the needs of men and women in recovery.

dramatic black and white photo of woman

Research suggests that women more often have past trauma and abuse—experiences that can require trauma-informed programming that treats addiction alongside other mental health conditions during recovery. These programs can be harder to find.

But large numbers of men also have to deal with traumatic and abusive histories, and the difference between the two groups may be negligible.

Women claim to find less recovery support among their co-workers while most men report a supportive work environment when they are working during their recovery. However, the numbers are hard to pin down and much of the evidence is anecdotal.

Women with children have unique difficulties in addiction recovery

When the woman in recovery is a mother she faces unique difficulties on a number of fronts. An in-patient program requires that she secure reliable childcare or have a spouse/partner willing to pick up the slack during what can be a long absence. Women also fear losing custody of their children once they admit to a substance use disorder. And should they wish to have their children with them in recovery and/or a sober living home, the options are few and far between—and almost all programs have age limits for the children and won’t allow children over the average age of twelve.

Addiction is an equal opportunity illness that doesn’t discriminate when it comes to gender. and recovery is a huge hill to climb for both men and women. But there are some very real circumstances that can limit options for women.

Love In The Trenches is proud to support two Baltimore facilities that focus on supporting mothers in recovery: The Center for Addiction and Pregnancy at Johns Hopkins/Bayview and the wonderful new Women’s Center at The Helping Up Mission. And we will continue to seek and research viable options for women in recovery.

In the meantime, please join us in erasing the shame of a substance use disorder for everyone. Shame is the greatest barrier for both men and women when it comes to seeking recovery.

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