Author: Rebecca Flood/Thursday, December 10, 2009/Categories: Gender Specific
The statistics are striking. According to the National Survey on Drug
Use and Health, an estimated 7.4 million women in the United States,
ages 12 and older, are substance abusers who need help.
Even more startling is the fact that more than 90 percent of these women wonʹt receive the care they need.
Some have no money. Others have no health insurance coverage. And still
others, often older women, have an instilled sense of pride and
embarrassment that makes it difficult to ask for help.
For experts, this underlies the importance of gender‐specific
treatment for women. The latest research is confirming that same‐sex
treatment in a safe and trusted environment is the most effective means
of providing help to addicted women.
Consider the story of ʺMarie,ʺ a 39‐year‐old business owner, mother
and recovering addict who, from age 19 to 23, thought nothing of tossing
back 16 cocktails, and a handful of amphetamines, to reach the perfect
numbness. She drank with the intention of blacking out. And, if that
wasnʹt going to kill her, her drunk‐driving habit might have, especially
after her second DUI crash.
Even today, the memory of how her life spiraled out of control
prompts tears from Marie, which is not her real name. She stresses her
doubts about survival had she not been sent to New Directions for Women,
a single‐sex Costa Mesa, CA‐based recovery program in its third decade,
that draws patients from around the country.
New Directions offered the clinical tools for recovery she so
desperately needed, Marie explained. But she came away with much more.
Marie spent eight months at the New Directions residential treatment
center where she felt safe among her peers as she recovered her
sobriety, her family relationships, her self‐esteem and her will to live
a clean life.
ʺMy eyes were opened,ʺ she said. ʺI came out of a cloud.ʺ
After completing treatment at New Directions, Marie made a list of
her goals and objectives. She noted how her goals might be taken for
granted by those who have never faced gripping addictions.
ʺI wrote down that I wanted to have a relationship with a loving man,
finish my college degree and someday have children,ʺ she admitted.
ʺToday, I have them all.ʺ
Could she have admitted such dreams in a coed treatment environment?
ʺSometimes, around the male presence we edit ourselves,ʺ she
continues. At New Directions, ʺjust being all women, it was a more homey
setting to let your feelings out. It was a little bit like a sorority,
where we were comfortable with each other to share our experiences and
find strength and hope in each other.ʺ
Specialized addiction treatment for women dates to the 1869 founding
of the Martha Washington Home in Chicago; Binghamton, New Yorkʹs Temple
Home, in 1876, and Bostonʹs New England Home for Intemperate Women,
whose doors opened in 1879, according to research.
Still, much of modern programming has been developed with one goal in
mind, explained Susan Foster, Vice President of Policy Research at the
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
ʺMost treatment in this country is modeled after the male heroin
addict,ʺ said Foster. ʺAnd very few people understand how women get
blindsided by the effects of drugs and alcohol.ʺ
Foster, with CASA executive director Joseph Califano, released the
2006 book, ʺWomen Under the Influence,ʺ funded by the Bristol‐Myers
Squibb Foundation and published by The Johns Hopkins University Press.
It details the myriad differences between women and men and how
factors from chemical makeup and metabolism to emotional response and
reliance on relationships play into how treatment plans must be tailored
for womenʹs unique needs.
ʺIt all comes back to educating the public about how addiction is a
health condition,ʺ Foster stressed. ʺA lot of people still think it is a
bad choice, or something to put in the moral turpitude box.ʺ
Research shows that as many as 70 percent of women who abuse drugs
have had histories of physical and sexual abuse. They also use drugs to
boost self‐esteem and confidence. Because of a range of physiological
differences, and even the ratio of fat and water in their bodies, one
drink for a woman has the same impact as two drinks for a man, research
Rebecca Flood took over New Directions in 2004, a treatment facility
located close to beautiful Newport Beach and the Back Bay environmental
area. Before she came on board, the place had already turned around the
lives of over 2,500 women. But with a truly ʺnew direction,ʺ industry
experts agree Flood has revitalized the facility, taking advantage of
its primary strength: it has treated only women addicts since its
ʺWomen, as we well know, are more relationship‐based than men,ʺ said
Flood, who herself has been clean and sober for 33 years. ʺIf we donʹt
address those relationships in a very significant way, they have higher
rates of relapse as a result.ʺ
A&E’s top‐rated program “Intervention” filmed its show at the
non‐profit treatment center on May 24 as a specifically targeted patient
began her treatment. New Directions is providing a 90‐day program for
the woman and is also the site of a monthly Intervention Workshop hosted
by A&E Interventionist Ken Seeley.
Besides the clinical approach, New Directions offers a holistic
component that can range from rock‐climbing and hiking to equine and art
therapy and even drum circles.
Jackie Cummings has been working with addicts for 31 years since she
cleaned up from her own heroin addiction in 1976. Today, as the manager
of recovery services at the 10,000‐member International Longshore and
Warehouse Union of Southern California, she said she regularly sends
addicted employees to treatment centers so they can regain their lives
New Directions she said, is the only all‐women program available to
her for the nearly 20 percent to 25 percent of that membership who are
women, and may eventually need to seek out assistance.
Kim Miller is the Manager of Womens Addictions Treatment Services at
West Virginiaʹs Prestera Center, which for more than 40 years has
provided substance abuse treatment as well as behavioral healthcare for
thousands of area residents.
Like New Directions, Presteraʹs Renaissance program offers
specialized addictions treatment services for women who want a chance at
a new life. They have 31 beds for adult women and children and treat
about 100 other women on an out‐patient basis.
ʺProviding gender‐specific services is the most important thing we
can do,ʺ Miller stressed, especially for women who have experienced
trauma and/or sexual abuse.
ʺThey will not discuss this in the presence of men. And in
mixed‐gender programs there is no provision for child care. So, a mother
is thinking, ʺWhere do my kids go while I go to group?ʺ
Programs for men are more confrontational, she said, ʺbecause men are wired differently.ʺ
Another womenʹs program in Asbury Park, NJ is Epiphany House, started
by Sister Janet Christenson, a member of the Sisters of Mercy religious
order, in 1989.
The similarly gender‐specific program is focused on addicts who are
homeless, or at risk of homelessness, and through the years has helped
hundreds upon hundreds of families.
In a published interview, Christenson said she started the program
with a $35 monthly stipend from her order until a $100,000 state grant
allowed her to open Epiphany House in Long Branch. There, she applied
what sheʹd learned from her own recovery to help others.
Among their success stories, is this one from ʺToni,ʺ which is
featured on the centerʹs Web site: ʺEpiphany House is sort of like the
Marines. Itʹs the hardest job youʹll ever love. It was hard and painful
and it was safe and healing. Today my children are safe. I have a home
and my home is clean. Iʹm working and I have the respect of my
co‐workers. I buy food without food stamps. It doesnʹt get any better
ʺYes,ʺ agreed Marie, the New Directions alum, now a mother of two
children: ʺMy life now is more than I could ever have imagined. I got it
because I wanted it. Before, it was a dream. A fantasy. And a wish.ʺ
But after learning what New Directions had to offer? Well, she said, itʹs hard to describe.
ʺMy parents are proud to have their daughter back,ʺ Marie said. ʺI
have reconfirmed where I came from, and where I am today. I guess itʹs
like this: once you lose something, like yourself, you appreciate that
much more being able to get it back.ʺ
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