Why Is There More Shame and Stigma for Women With Addiction?
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Anyone who tried to argue that there is no shame or stigma surrounding addiction would have a very difficult time proving it, let alone finding someone to believe them. The stereotypes have been fed to us through the media, laws, government agencies, cultures, and families. Though shame and stigmas exist for men, the cultural burdens are even heavier for women. Why is there more shame and stigma for women with addiction?

Two Sets of Cultural and Societal Rules

Society places different expectations for behavior on women. While society shames those who abuse substances, drinking and some forms of substance use are far more acceptable for men than women. Even though many views those with addiction as morally bereft, there are apparently tiers of morality, and women always land on the bottom. Why?

In a study published in the National Library of Medicine, the discussion of increased stigma for women with addiction included the obvious cultural and societal ideal that drug and alcohol use conflict with the character traits of the female identity. There is even more stigma for mothers, who are expected to be caregivers, be more family-oriented than men, and raise children. Women are often acutely aware of these stereotypes and will try to hide their substance use, especially if they are mothers.

Other stereotypes pointed out in the article include that women who violate gender-role expectations are “bad” or that pregnant women who use substances have a “moral failing.” Women with addiction also face other stigmas simultaneously, including those associated with poverty, unemployment, minority status, older age, or transgender identification. There are clearly two sets of cultural and societal rules, even within the stigma of addiction.

Why Shaming Women Is So Dangerous

Shame is already a significant problem for many women. They compare themselves to one another, and it does not take much for them to tell themselves that they are not good enough. When society is shaming women, sending those messages that they are inferior to men for the exact same behaviors, it continues a longstanding societal disparity between the genders not only as individuals but as a collective. These messages are dangerous because both men and women believe them, self-esteem is damaged in the women, and men toward women continue a continued culture of oppression and abuse toward women. This only increases the instances of substance abuse among women.

How Shame and Stigma Get in the Way of Treatment

The stigmas surrounding addiction follow the same pattern when it comes to treatment, with women receiving more shame and less support than men when they try to get help for their addiction. Additionally, women face barriers to treatment that restrict or prevent them from accessing the care they need, including:

  • Financial limitations
  • Access to insurance
  • Pregnancy
  • Child or elder care
  • More common co-occurrences of eating disorders
  • Higher rates of co-occurring depression and anxiety
  • Significantly higher rates of trauma 
  • Triggers related to sexual abuse

Women often face stigmas relating to each of these barriers on top of the barriers themselves. They are often shamed for not only trying to access help but for being in the position to need help. The burden of these barriers is often placed upon them as if it is their fault, adding to the shame. Despite having greater barriers to treatment, there is less help available for women who need treatment.

How to Get Past Stereotypes to Be Able to Heal as a Woman

Stereotypes are powerful. Accessing treatment for addiction is difficult enough without being shamed and judged or having so many barriers just because of your gender. However, you cannot let others stand in the way of your healing. This is not their life, and this is your life. Regardless of what others say or think about you, only you can make the changes needed to heal as a woman.

No matter how difficult or painful, you can break the stereotypes and move past the stigma by starting today. Take that first step toward treatment by making the call. By completing your admissions call today, you pass the first hurdle on your way to overcoming shame and stigma. Once you have set your treatment in motion, overcoming those negative thoughts and ideas will be easier, and finding the healing you deserve. It is not your fault that there is more stigma and shame for women than for men with addiction. It is not your fault that women experience more barriers to treatment. However, it is within your power to change the trajectory of your life by taking that first step toward healing today.

Why is there more shame and stigma for women with addiction? As with too many things in our society, there are two sets of rules regarding drug and alcohol use for men and women. Shame and stigma can be dangerous for women and get in the way of treatment and other barriers for women. You can overcome stereotypes and find healing by taking the first step today. By calling The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women, you can access our detox and residential treatment program for women with substance use and co-occurring disorders. Our Costa Mesa, California facility is a peaceful refuge for healing that focuses on overcoming shame and stigmas to help you find your way again. Our compassionate, non-judgmental staff offer trauma-informed care and individualized treatment plans. How can we help you start your treatment today? Call us at (714) 581-3974.