When we talk about the addiction crisis in the United States, we could feel like we’re talking about an event that could happen only on our soil, where the characteristics of our society are solely responsible for this kind of disaster. Unlike many parts of the world, we received close to universal healthcare only recently, and that concept is currently threatened by the current administration. Many people are simply priced out of healthcare services they may need due to a lack of employer-provided insurance. Coupled with a long-lasting, controversial and double-edged war on drugs, it seems only natural that we incubated a perfect storm of people who need recovery options and don’t have access to them. With hundreds of thousands of people who were persecuted in the war on drugs in the U.S. and who faced an uphill climb in the labor force due to criminal convictions, we’ve left a huge margin of our country extremely vulnerable to substance use disorders but with limited resources to seek out help.
I recently gave a talk during a London addictions conference specifically about gender-specialized care for women. Despite the situation the U.S. finds itself in, the U.K. is facing its own epidemic. As one report states, “Deaths related to drug misuse are at their highest level since comparable records began in 1993.” Even though they have their own unique cultures and public policies, other nations face the same crisis we do. People suffering with addiction aren’t reaching the professional or peer-supported help they need. Thousands of entirely preventable deaths are happening year after year, and the numbers are growing steadily. Even though certain social factors in the U.S. might be influencing a substance use disorder crisis, there’s another universal factor more heavily contributing to the astonishing number of people who aren’t receiving care.
A unique opportunity for women
According to researchers, “Several studies have identified stigma as a significant barrier for accessing health care.” There’s a factor of shame involved with addiction that is not present with any other illness. There’s also a manipulation of the brain’s reward mechanisms that, when combined with the negative self-perception of being an addict, makes seeking treatment even more unlikely. For women, those self-defeating feelings can be merciless, with the guilt of raising children under the influence or being pregnant while being dependent on a substance.
However, having children also gives women a powerful motivation to seek out help. Women have a unique opportunity not only to recover from their addiction, but also to offer preventative care for their children by doing so.
Road ahead: Let’s cross the bridge