The Importance of Addressing the Unique Needs of Women Seeking Treatment in West Springfield, MA


The iconic Austrian psychologist Anna Freud famously said, “I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time.” Supporting all women seeking treatment can help them uncover that essential source of inner strength.

While inclusivity continues to get better in the recovery realm, there is still a long way to go to ensure that everyone’s unique needs are met. This includes addressing the unique needs of women seeking treatment. It is important women feel empowered when it comes to seeking treatment because, for far too long, women faced gender-specific stigmas around addiction and mental health.

The Prevalence of Addiction in the U.S.

Addiction is more prominent than many people may realize. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “In 2022, 48.7 million people aged 12 or older (or 17.3%) had a substance use disorder (SUD) in the past year, including 29.5 million who had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), 27.2 million who had a drug use disorder (DUD), and 8.0 million people who had both an AUD and a DUD.”

There are also many people who struggle with co-occurring disorders alongside their addiction issues. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “7.7 million adults have co-occurring mental and substance use disorders.” Of course, while these statistics are comprehensive, they are not absolute. This is because many people who struggle with addiction and/or mental illness (behavioral health issues) do not speak up or seek help. Also, this includes many women who don’t seek help due to social stigmas.

Understanding Women and Addiction

While statistically, there may be more men who seek treatment than women, it is not because they are more susceptible to addiction. According to NIDA, “For most age groups, men have higher rates of use or dependence on illicit drugs and alcohol than do women. However, women are just as likely as men to develop a substance use disorder. In addition, women may be more susceptible to craving and relapse, which are key phases of the addiction cycle.”

This last aspect of relapse susceptibility is important because many people don’t realize just how common relapse currently is in the U.S. (for both men and women). According to the peer-reviewed thesis Addiction Relapse Prevention by Doctors Guenzel and McChargue, “One primary concern in addiction treatment is the high rate of relapses within a short period after even the most intensive treatment. Many studies have shown relapse rates of approximately 50% within the first 12 weeks after completion of intensive inpatient programs that often last 4 to 12 weeks or more and can cost tens of thousands of dollars.”

However, these relapse rates can be reduced if an individual’s needs are specifically met. This is why individualized care can be so crucial. Overarching “one-note” recovery plans rarely tend to work. They cannot address everyone’s needs. This includes the needs of women seeking treatment.

The Unique Needs of Women Seeking Treatment

Most people can benefit from many of the same types of treatments. However, there are many stigmas and social inequities regarding recovery that are specifically unique to women.

For example, one of the unique stigmas that women face is how they are perceived regarding addiction and pregnancy. According to NIDA, “Unfortunately, it can be difficult for a person with a substance use disorder to quit, and some women with such disorders fear that seeking help while pregnant or afterward could cause them legal or social problems. Communities can build support systems to help women access treatment as early as possible, ideally before becoming pregnant.” Also, “If a woman is unable to quit before becoming pregnant, treatment during pregnancy improves the chances of having a healthier baby at birth.”

The Barriers for Women Seeking Treatment

Pregnancy is just one of the barriers for women seeking treatment. Another barrier for women seeking treatment is the way they are believed by hospitals and primary care providers. Many women feel dismissed or disrespected when it comes to asking for addiction help. This often stops women from continuing to seek help.

There can also be financial barriers for women seeking treatment as the pay disparities in the U.S. are still prominent, and many women who struggle with addiction face financial insecurity when it comes to seeking treatment. Women can also feel insecure about how they will be perceived if it is discovered that they are seeking treatment or are in recovery. This is because women tend to face a disproportionate standard when it comes to social circumstances. Many women also fear that seeking treatment could bring more discrimination down the road.

Understanding Trauma, PTSD, and Women Seeking Treatment

Many women who struggle with issues of addiction and mental health also struggle with underlying issues of trauma, especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), “Women’s experiences of trauma have been linked to a variety of negative mental health consequences, including especially PTSD. Estimates from community studies suggest that women experience PTSD at two to three times the rate that men do.” Also, “U.S. prevalence estimates of lifetime PTSD from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication are 9.7% for women and 3.6% for men.”

Many women who struggle with PTSD also do so because they have experienced some type of assault at the hands of the opposite sex. This could be physical, verbal, or sexual assault. It is for this reason that many women may feel apprehensive about being in a treatment program that doesn’t take their needs into account. Understandably, women who have experienced some type of trauma are looking for a safe space when it comes to recovery.

The Importance of Safe Spaces for Recovery

A safe space for women does not necessarily mean that the space has to be gender-specific. However, it does mean that it needs to take women’s specific needs into account. This may involve ensuring that the professionals on staff are representative of all genders.

A safe space for recovery may also mean that there are program specialties that focus solely on the needs of women. This may include female-only group therapy sessions, for example. Women-specific care should also address women-specific addiction stigmas. According to Fusio: The Bentley Undergraduate Research Journal, “Although many women initiate the use of drugs as a way to self-medicate and address social pressures, they are stigmatized by society for using drugs, and women who are mothers face even greater stigmatization.”

Women-specific care doesn’t have to look a certain way, either. Again, it is as much a matter of ensuring that the space is safe, regardless of what type of recovery program is being employed. This includes day treatment that addresses women’s specific needs.

The Benefits of Day Treatment for Women in Recovery

Many women avoid seeking treatment because they don’t feel that they can step away from their responsibilities. While this is understandable, the truth is that pushing treatment back will only make the problem worse.

Day treatment is a great option for women who still need to manage day-to-day responsibilities. This type of treatment allows people to actively engage with their recovery without having to stay directly at the facility.

Of course, not all day treatment programs are created equally. Some day programs only engage with the individual a few times a week for a few hours at a time. For most, this is rarely enough to get to the underlying issues that are causing a person’s negative and addictive behaviors.

A quality day treatment program is going to include daily work for a minimum of six hours a day for a least five days a week. Depending on the individual, this may last for a few weeks or a few months. The key is to address all of the issues the first time so the individual can avoid a potential relapse and do it all over again.

A quality day treatment program is also going to be comprehensive. This means that it is going to offer multiple means, methods, and modalities for recovery, including individual and group therapy sessions.

Individual Therapy for Women in Recovery

One of the most prominent ways to address addiction, for both men and women, is via individual psychotherapy. This includes psychotherapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that is going to help get to the underlying issues of one’s addiction issues.

CBT has been shown to be one of the most highly effective therapies when it comes to treating a broad range of addiction and mental health issues. According to Psychology of Addictive Behaviors: the Journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, “Multiple meta-analyses and reviews over the past 30 years have concluded that CBT is an effective treatment across a range of substance use disorders. The most recent and comprehensive meta-analysis included 53 controlled trials, published through 2006, of CBT for adults diagnosed with alcohol or drug use disorders, and reported a small but statistically significant treatment effect (g = 0.15) for CBT over control conditions across studies.”

CBT is also an evidence-based therapy that does not discriminate based on gender or sex. However, many women seeking treatment prefer working with a CBT specialist who is of the same sex.

As with other modalities, CBT’s benefits are also positively influenced when other therapies are used in tandem. This includes the use of group therapy (including women-specific group therapy).

Group Therapy for Women in Recovery

Studies reported in the American Journal on Addictions found that women felt more secure in gender-specific group therapy settings. According to the American Journal on Addictions, “Men more frequently endorsed the helpfulness of mixed-gender groups than did women while women appreciated the enhanced support in single-gender SUD groups. Issues of stigma are especially salient for women.” Also, “Only women endorse stigma as an obstacle to their treatment and recovery.”

A big part of group therapy is the feeling that it is a safe space to share without the fear of judgment. For women, this safety is better established in gender-specific group therapy sessions.

Another critical component of group therapy is the aspect of “shared experience.” Many women who struggle with addiction and/or mental health feel isolated and alone. Connecting with other people who have also felt like that can be essential. Group therapy can also be helpful because it allows new people in recovery to see the progress of others. It is the concept of “If they can make it, maybe I can too!” This can be especially salient in women-specific recovery communities.

Connecting With Other Women in Recovery Communities

Recovery communities can be an ideal way to both attain recovery, as well as maintain it in the long-term. Many people connect with recovery communities while they are still in day treatment and stay connected with them after they finish.

As with individual therapy, it is important to stay connected to a recovery community after one leaves treatment. Doing so is one of the best ways to stay accountable and avoid a potential relapse.

Many different types of recovery communities exist. There is SMART Recovery for those who wish to avoid a spiritual path, there is Recovery Dharma for those seeking recovery with a focus on Buddhism, and there is 12-Step recovery, which offers both secular and spiritual meetings.

A 12-Step Track to Recovery

Many people are under the wrong impression that 12-Step recovery is just about recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD). While yes, the initial 12-Step group, founded by Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, was Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), there are now many different types of 12-Step programs available. This includes groups that focus on substance use disorder (SUD) and behavioral disorders.

Many people are also under the impression that one must be a religious or spiritual person to practice 12-Step recovery. There are many different types of 12-Step meetings out there, and one can be as spiritual or religious as they wish to be – this is why the Twelve Steps use the term “Higher Power of one’s own understanding” rather than God.

Just as there are many different types of spiritual (or atheist) 12-Step meetings, there are also meetings that address other areas. For example, there are LGBTQ+ meetings, men’s meetings, meetings that are open to the public, and, yes, women-specific meetings too.

Many women find that attending women-specific meetings helps them stay more connected to their own personal issues of addiction. They also feel more comfortable to share at meetings.

Women can also feel empowered by helping other women recover, which 12-Step recovery helps them do. This adheres to the “Responsibility Statement,” which is often read in 12-Step recovery meetings. It goes, “I am responsible, when anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of [recovery] always to be there. And for that: I am responsible.” It is a powerful message that has helped millions of individuals and their families recover and stay recovered.

Helping Women Recover at NorthStar Recovery Center

Dr. Anna Freud also said, “Sometimes the most beautiful thing is precisely the one that comes unexpectedly and unearned, hence something given truly as a present.” For many, this is the gift of desperation that is often needed to begin the recovery process.

That desperation is a gift because it opens up the willingness needed to start the recovery journey. At NorthStar Recovery Center, we understand that for women, this journey deserves to be taken without any fear of stigma or lack of respect. This is why we offer individualized care for each and every one of our clients.

Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to recover. At NorthStar Recovery Center, they do. That is our promise, our primary purpose, and our overall recovery mission.

Women face unique needs when it comes to seeking appropriate treatment. There are certain stigmas and barriers women face when seeking care and specific reasons why they may opt not to seek treatment. At NorthStar Recovery Center in West Springfield, MA, we take the needs of women very seriously, and our diligent professional staff works to provide safe settings and the resources necessary to encourage women to seek and maintain care. If you feel like you or a loved one are struggling with issues of addiction, mental illness, or both, we can get you on the right road to long-term recovery. For more information about women-specific addiction care, please reach out to NorthStar Recovery Center today at (888) 902-4234.