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Relapse is common in recovery, but there are sometimes different reasons why men and women relapse that are more specific to each gender. Some of the same factors that lead women to abuse substances are the same reasons they relapse. Why do women relapse in recovery?

How Relationships Affect Women in Recovery

Substance abuse in women commonly begins due to a partner or family member who also abuses substances or dysfunctional relationships that cause stress or trauma. Because a woman’s self-worth is often tied to her relationships and substance abuse, many women resist seeking treatment for fear of losing or damaging the relationship.

For those women who receive treatment for substance abuse, their risk of relapse is much higher when they remain in or return to their prior relationships. Even women who do not stay with their partners may repeat similar relationship patterns after treatment, ending up once again with partners who have an addiction or help create dysfunction or trauma again. Repeating the cycle in relationships increases the likelihood of repeating substance use likewise.

Recovery for Pregnant Women or Mothers

Recovery is a unique challenge for mothers or women who are pregnant. For those who are able to stop using drugs or alcohol during pregnancy or for their children, the stressors of motherhood can cause a relapse. Choosing recovery for yourself decreases the likelihood of relapse compared to when a woman chooses recovery for her children or others.

How Mood Disorders Impact a Potential Relapse

Another significant factor in potential relapse for women is the greater instances of co-occurring mood disorders, particularly depression in women with substance abuse. One study reports that between 50-70% of women who have an alcohol addiction also experience major depressive episodes within their lifetime. Without the proper medical treatment for both substance abuse and mood disorders, women are at increased risk of relapse.

Barriers to Recovery for Women

Women face gender-specific barriers to recovery. Co-occurring trauma, particularly from sexual abuse, incest, or sexual assault, can prevent them from accessing treatment in facilities and programs which typically treat both men and women together. Housewives, entrepreneurs, working professionals, and women in the military face stigma when they become addicted to substances. Women with children often lack the childcare, medical insurance, or finances necessary to seek the treatment they need.

For women who have been able to overcome these barriers and receive the necessary treatment, these same barriers also put them at increased risk for relapse. For example, a divorced woman is more likely to work and carry greater childcare responsibilities, with less access to medical insurance or other financial considerations. Even when she has completed treatment, she may not be able to access the long-term therapy, medical care, attendance at meetings, and other support she needs to prevent a relapse.

Overall Gender-specific Themes for Relapse

Just as the reasons that men and women begin using substances have common differences, the reasons that the two genders relapse is also different. One study in which women were interviewed regarding substance use, abstinence, and relapse indicated that four major themes are specific to relapse in women:

  • Low self-worth and its impact on their relationships with men
  • Negative emotions or interpersonal conflicts
  • More difficulty changing from substance-using to non-using friends and acquaintances
  • Less knowledge about relapse prevention and coping skills

The recommendations of this study included addressing the gender differences in terms of relapse prevention, as treatment and relapse prevention has been largely based on the causes, biology, and needs of men until recently.

How Women Can Protect Themselves from Relapse

The more research on female-specific relapse is conducted, the more recommendations for women-focused treatment. Seeking trauma-informed care and support in programs and facilities that are safe, collaborative, trustworthy, and empowering allows women to heal from co-occurring trauma and PTSD. Continued therapy and treatment for trauma will likely be needed as well to ensure that relapse does not occur due to the triggers of PTSD or traumatic experiences.

Other relapse prevention strategies include making a Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) plan, in which the skills of mindfulness and other therapeutic techniques are combined with education about coping mechanisms and relapse prevention skills.

Mindfulness, in particular, is helpful for women because it can be more successful in managing their emotions when they are calm, at peace, and comfortable with themselves. Practicing mindfulness daily strengthens the mind to increase resilience and the ability to be mindful in times of stress or cravings, thus helping to prevent a relapse.

Why do women relapse in recovery? They relapse for many of the same reasons they begin using substances, including dysfunctional or abusive relationships and the prevalence of co-occurring mood disorders. Finding women-focused treatment can help women get the specific type of vital support they need in recovery. The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women is a trauma-informed residential treatment center for women with drug or alcohol addiction. We include a medically supervised detox and a dynamic curriculum to provide you with the education and life skills you need to maintain recovery after treatment. We offer trauma-informed 12-Step meetings, and a non-12-Step peer support group called She Recovers for women in any type of recovery. We emphasize finding your self-worth to be successful in your family and intimate relationships, your career, and throughout your life. Please call us today at (714) 581-3974 to learn more about how you can heal in a safe and supportive environment.