The number of women ages 30 to 44 who report abusing alcohol has doubled over the past decade, while prescription drug abuse has sky rocketed over 400%, according to a federal study. But most addicted women hide their secret well – often, with disastrous results.
So, why would young successful women begin down the long road of addiction?
No one who becomes addicted intends to be a junkie. But substance abuse among young mothers is becoming an ugly reality since the stress on this generation of women has never been greater.
No one ever considers that a busy, engaged mom in the prime of her life may actually have a serious addiction. Here’s why:
More Stress, Less Time: More women with young kids hold down full time jobs and they are the most sleep-deprived part of our society. A sleepy brain is a stressed brain. Addictions begin when we use something to bridge the gap or take the edge off of your daily stress.
Escape Hatch: Substance abuse gives you an escape. Most abused drugs and alcohol create intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure. Self-confidence soars, energy expands, and the worries and challenges of a busy life are gone.
Girls Night Out: “Girls Night Out” has become a national, normalized ritual in our society. But a whole lot of drinking also goes on during these female-bonding events.
Long Standing Problem: Most substance abuse begins in adolescence or in college when there is rampant binge drinking and the young woman carries the problem forward into her social life as a young mother.
Most of what you hear about alcoholism relates to how it is dangerous for the man in your life. But women are at just as much risk, if not greater:
Quick and Painful: Women get drunker faster than men, become addicted quicker, and develop health problems related to abuse such as liver cirrhosis, hypertension, and malnutrition at higher rates than men.
Substance-Fueled Violence: The link between physical abuse and alcohol is well established. Seventy five percent of rapes and seventy percent of domestic violence involves alcohol.
Liquid Diet: Many women are obsessed with their weight and prefer to drink rather than eat a healthy diet. Since 40% of American women are on a diet at any given moment, many women substitute alcohol for regular meals and good nutrition, and they end up harming their bodies.
Long Term Consequences: The effects of alcohol on a woman’s body linger months after she stops drinking. In fact, studies find that alcohol damages a woman’s brain structure and function in lasting and measurable ways. Although women drink less than men, death rates among alcoholic women are almost 100% higher than among their male counterparts.
Most people don’t know that addiction takes root through very predictable steps and stages as a woman surrenders her life to addiction:
Internal Shift: The woman begins to turn toward behavior that is relieving her stress. Getting high is fun and it changes her mood for the better in the beginning. She denies how dangerous her usage is as she begins to betray others and herself with repeated use.
Lifestyle Change: A behavioral dependency on the alcohol or drug now emerges. Her life is altered to accommodate the addiction even if she becomes reckless and self-destructive. She moves deeper into the sabotaging behavior as she builds her life around getting high.
Her Life Destructs: The addiction has now taken over. The woman relies on getting high and ignores or rationalizes the destructive aspects of her behavior. At this point, nothing matters to the addict but the acquisition of the substance. The obsession with the addiction causes a trance state. People don’t matter, commitments don’t count, and honesty isn’t even a part of the conversation.
Unstoppable: She believes that she cannot stop. New brain imaging technology now shows that there are significant changes in brain structure that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning, memory, and behavioral control. These changes compromise the brain architecture and cause the slide into addiction.
Here’s what you can do to identify and help the addicted woman in your life:
Be On The Lookout: Whenever you see any kind of irrational, highly self-destructive behavior that just doesn’t add up, there is usually some kind of addictive behavior behind it.
Bad Behavior: Secrecy, deceit, and the systematic betrayal of the trust of others are all hallmarks of this disorder.
Feeling Blue: Addictions often manifest very differently in women than in men with addicted women reporting more depression, anxiety and low self esteem.
Interventions Work: Make a plan, enlist a team of loving friends and family and intervene directly and quickly. Happily, addiction treatment is highly effective and lasting so be encouraged that you are saving her life. She’ll thank you for it once she is sober and safe again.
Addiction is extremely serious, and if you are worried about someone in your life – please contact a substance abuse professional or facility for more information.
The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University: Report on Substance Abuse and the American Woman, June 1996
Women Under the influence, by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University omen under the Influence
Alcoholism Hurts Women Neuropsychologically Almost the Same as it Hurts Men: Deficits Linger Months into Abstinence, APA, January 20, 2002
Addicted Moms: Everybody Knows Somebody, WorkingMother.com
The National Institute of Drug Abuse, “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior - The Science of Addiction"