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Are Women at Higher Risk for Developing Co-Occurring Disorders?

Women who struggle with addiction are at increased risk for developing co-occurring disorders. In order to understand why, one must first understand the intricate relationship between addiction and mental health among women. It’s vital to shed light on the factors that contribute to developing co-occurring disorders, the impact on treatment strategies, and the necessity for gender-sensitive treatment. By unraveling these connections, we can spread awareness and promote more effective support for women navigating the complex terrain of developing co-occurring disorders in the wake of addiction.

What Is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

A co-occurring disorder, within the context of addiction, refers to the simultaneous presence of substance use disorder (SUD) and a mental health disorder in an individual. Also known as a dual diagnosis, this condition involves the complex interaction between substance abuse and various mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The relationship between addiction and mental health is intricate and bidirectional. Individuals with co-occurring disorders often experience a compounding effect, where the symptoms of one disorder can exacerbate the other. For example, substance abuse might be a way to self-medicate the distressing symptoms of a mental health issue, leading to a cycle of dependence and worsening mental health. Conversely, the impact of substance abuse on the brain’s chemistry and structure can contribute to or intensify mental health symptoms.

Understanding the concept of co-occurring disorders is crucial for healthcare professionals, individuals seeking treatment, and their families. Acknowledging the intricate connection between substance abuse and mental health can lead to more effective interventions, reduced relapse rates, and improved quality of life for those struggling with the complexities of addiction and mental health challenges.

Why Are Women at Increased Risk for Developing Co-Occurring Disorders?

Women can face a higher risk of developing co-occurring disorders, particularly when it comes to addiction. This is due to a convergence of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. The phenomenon has gotten significant attention in recent years as researchers and clinicians try to better understand and address the unique challenges faced by women in the realm of substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Biologically, women’s bodies often metabolize substances differently than men’s bodies. Physiological differences such as body composition, hormonal fluctuations, and enzymes involved in drug metabolism can influence how addictive substances affect women. As a result, women may experience a more rapid onset and progression of addiction. When coupled with other factors, this can lead to a greater likelihood of developing co-occurring disorders.

Psychologically, women are subject to distinct vulnerabilities that contribute to developing co-occurring disorders. For instance, women are often more prone to internalizing disorders such as anxiety and depression, which can increase their susceptibility to addiction. Men are more prone to externalizing disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorders, and intermittent explosive disorder (IED), which is sometimes called “anger management disorder.” The self-medication hypothesis suggests that women may turn to substances as a way to alleviate emotional distress, inadvertently worsening their mental health symptoms and perpetuating a vicious cycle of addiction and co-occurring disorders.

Sociocultural factors heighten the risk even further. Stigmatization and societal expectations can create unique pressures on women. Cultural norms often dictate that women should fulfill multiple roles as caregivers, professionals, and homemakers, leaving them more vulnerable to stress and anxiety. These patriarchal pressures may drive some women towards substances as a coping mechanism, leading to addiction and developing co-occurring disorders.

Additionally, treatment challenges for women facing co-occurring disorders are plentiful. Many treatment programs have historically been designed with a male-centered approach, often neglecting the distinct needs of women. Women may fear judgment or face barriers to accessing treatment due to childcare responsibilities or financial constraints. The lack of gender-specific treatment options can hinder recovery and perpetuate the cycle of co-occurring disorders. This is why gender-exclusive programs like the ones offered at Avery Lane are so important. We take women’s specific issues and needs into account in everything we do.

Addressing the increased risk of developing co-occurring disorders among women requires an individualized and gender-sensitive approach. This involves tailoring treatment strategies to account for the unique biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors that contribute to women’s vulnerability. It’s crucial to provide accessible and specialized care that recognizes and addresses the interaction between addiction and mental health issues in women, and that’s exactly what Avery Lane does.

Common Co-Occurring Disorders in Women

A co-occurring disorder can be just about anything, and every individual’s experience is different. For women with SUD, some of the most common co-occurring disorders include the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Trauma-related disorders, like PTSD
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

Perhaps the most common of these is depression. The relationship between addiction and depression is complex and cyclical – substance abuse can lead to or exacerbate depressive symptoms, while depression can drive individuals towards substance use as a coping mechanism. Women, who are already more prone to experiencing depression, may find themselves trapped in a cycle where substance abuse and depressive symptoms reinforce each other.

Anxiety disorders are another prevalent co-occurring issue among women with addiction. Generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and panic disorders often intertwine with addictive behaviors. The feelings brought on by these disorders are often debilitating and may feel life-threatening at times. Women may turn to substances in an attempt to alleviate their anxiety. Unfortunately, short-term relief provided by drugs or alcohol can give way to increased anxiety in the long run, intensifying the addiction.

Trauma-related disorders, such as PTSD, are also common among women with addiction. Many women in addiction treatment have experienced trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, which can significantly impact their mental well-being. Sexual violence is painfully common for women to experience at some point in their life, and it is uniquely traumatizing. Substance use can be an attempt to numb the distressing memories and emotions associated with trauma, which can lead to or prolong the addiction. SUD itself can be traumatizing or lead to behaviors that cause trauma. This cycle can further complicate the treatment process.

Eating disorders are yet another set of co-occurring disorders frequently observed in women with addiction. Examples of eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. Some people use substances to suppress their appetite, which makes it easier to lose weight. However, this can quickly lead to addiction, especially when your body is malnourished.

Eating disorders themselves may be brought on by the pursuit of a “perfect body” or by the urge to have control over something in life. Unfortunately, addiction can leave individuals feeling out of control as a result of cravings and urges to use. Using substances can also affect a person physically, intensifying body image issues. In this way, eating disorders and SUD are both each other’s perfect partners and worst enemies.

Obstacles After Developing Co-Occurring Disorders

Women experience unique obstacles in their everyday lives. There are even more barriers that women with co-occurring disorders encounter in their journey toward healing and recovery. From societal stigmas and gender-specific stressors to barriers to accessing appropriate care, understanding these multifaceted challenges is essential to fostering a more inclusive and effective approach to treatment. By delving into the complexities of these obstacles, we can pave the way for tailored interventions that address the distinctive needs of women grappling with addiction and mental health issues.

Employment Obstacles

Finding employment is difficult right now in general, but it can be even more challenging for those with co-occurring disorders. One significant barrier is the stigma associated with addiction and mental health disorders. Despite increased awareness and understanding, a pervasive social stigma surrounding these conditions still exists. Job seekers with a dual diagnosis may fear discrimination or negative perceptions from potential employers, leading to reluctance to disclose their situation during the application process. This secrecy can impact their ability to access appropriate accommodations and support in the workplace.

The symptoms of addiction and co-occurring disorders can also directly affect job readiness. Fluctuating moods, difficulty concentrating, and periods of low energy or motivation are common challenges faced by individuals with these conditions. This can result in inconsistent job performance, attendance issues, and difficulty meeting deadlines, making it harder to secure and maintain employment. To an outsider looking in, an employee with co-occurring disorders may seem disorganized, lazy, and unreliable, but these are knee-jerk reactions that come from not understanding the situation. Disclosing your condition is a tough and personal decision to make, but it may be helpful in some cases.

Recovery and treatment are vital components of managing a dual diagnosis, but they can also introduce hurdles. Treatment commitments, such as therapy sessions, support group meetings, and medical appointments, may conflict with work schedules, creating a balancing act that requires careful coordination. Unfortunately, medical attention and therapy can be extremely expensive in the US. Financial strains caused by the exponential costs can also influence job seekers’ decisions and stress levels.

Social Relationships

Navigating social relationships can be particularly challenging for individuals dealing with addiction and a co-occurring disorder. This dual diagnosis, where both SUD and a mental health issue coexist, introduces a unique set of obstacles that can strain interpersonal connections.

Stigma presents a hurdle in interpersonal relationships as well as professional ones. Despite growing awareness, these issues still carry a degree of societal judgment and misunderstanding. Individuals grappling with a dual diagnosis may fear rejection or shame from their social circles, leading them to keep their condition secret. These feelings of fear, self-hatred, and isolation can seriously hinder budding social relationships.

The symptoms of addiction and co-occurring disorders can also interfere with social interactions. Mood swings, unpredictable behavior, and difficulty managing emotions can strain friendships and family relationships. Loved ones may struggle to understand the nature of these conditions, resulting in a lack of empathy and strained communication. With family members, family therapy may be a beneficial step, as it can help them gain an understanding of their loved one’s disorders.

The lifestyle associated with addiction can also disrupt healthy social connections. Individuals battling addiction often find themselves prioritizing obtaining and using substances over maintaining relationships. This can lead to neglecting personal connections, causing friends and family to feel hurt, abandoned, or frustrated. Even after sobriety is reached and treatment has been completed, the struggles of cravings and potential relapse can strain relationships.

Treatment and recovery processes can also impact social relationships. In an effort to support recovery, individuals might need to distance themselves from social circles that promote substance use or exacerbate their mental health issues. This is a very personal and difficult decision to make, but it is sometimes necessary. Even if relationships do not threaten sobriety or mental health, a person may choose to work through the process on their own. While it may be the right decision for them, it can still impact their close relationships. This separation can result in feelings of loss and loneliness, even if it’s a necessary step toward healing.

Getting Treatment After Developing Co-Occurring Disorders

Diagnosing and treating co-occurring disorders can be challenging due to the overlapping symptoms and complexities involved. Often, one disorder may be identified before the other, leading to incomplete or ineffective treatment approaches. Comprehensive care necessitates addressing both conditions at the same time. Neglecting one can impede progress in managing the other. Often, extra work is needed to identify the root cause of the co-occurring disorders. This can lead to a frustrating “chicken-or-the-egg” situation.

Integrated treatment approaches are widely recognized as the most effective way to address co-occurring disorders. This involves a holistic strategy that combines evidence-based therapies for addiction and mental health, focusing on the interaction between the two. Integrated treatment considers the individual’s unique needs, aiming to address the root causes of both disorders and promote overall well-being.

The Avery Lane Approach

As a women-only treatment center, Avery Lane has carved a distinctive path by addressing co-occurring disorders in a comprehensive and empowering manner. Rooted in the belief that true healing encompasses both the mind and body, we’ve attempted to redefine the standard approach, advocating for the treatment of the whole person rather than isolating individual issues.

At the heart of our philosophy lies the recognition that addiction and mental health struggles are interconnected facets of a woman’s complex journey. Our center’s dedication to treating both these aspects simultaneously reflects a deep understanding of the intricate relationship between them. By providing an inclusive space for women to address addiction and mental health concerns in tandem, we attempt to break down the barriers that have traditionally separated these areas of treatment.

We embrace a wide range of approaches, combining evidence-based therapies with holistic practices such as energy psychology, mindfulness, expressive art therapy, and equine therapy. This holistic integration recognizes that healing extends beyond clinical methods, delving into the realm of emotional, spiritual, and physical rejuvenation. By allowing women to explore diverse avenues of healing, Avery Lane empowers them to discover strategies that resonate uniquely with their personal journeys.

We want to emphasize empowering women to reclaim their identities and rebuild their lives. Addiction and mental health challenges often erode self-esteem and a sense of agency. Through personalized care plans and compassionate support, Avery Lane fosters an environment where women can rediscover their strengths and aspirations. By nurturing interpersonal connections, our center enables women to forge a strong support network – a crucial element in their recovery journey.

In a world where developing co-occurring disorders can be isolating and overwhelming, we strive to be a beacon of hope. Through our unique approach, dedication to treating the whole being, and unwavering commitment to empowering women, our facilities offer a sanctuary where healing is comprehensive, empowerment is paramount, and the journey to recovery is guided by the principles of interconnectedness and self-discovery. Avery Lane doesn’t just treat co-occurring disorders; we embark on a journey with women to shape a future defined by resilience, empowerment, and holistic well-being.

Developing co-occurring disorders when you’re already facing substance use disorder (SUD) can be a discouraging and scary experience. It may seem like just another weight on your shoulder stopping you from living a healthy, full life. In reality, co-occurring disorders are common, and both can be treated successfully, especially when you have the right care team on your side. Our staff at Avery Lane Women’s Rehab is ready to help you shoulder the weight of addiction and mental health conditions. If you’re tired of going through the journey alone, know that you don’t have to. There are options available to help you and your family on the road to recovery. Give us a call at (800) 270-2406.

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