The disease of alcoholism does not discriminate but takes particular physical and cognitive tolls on both sexes. Although women may become addicted faster than men, they have lower relapse rates after treatment. While women may experience more serious liver damage, their brain matter rebounds faster after treatment.
Biological differences between men and women dictate the physiological effects of alcohol on each. A woman’s body has more fatty tissue than that of a man the same size, thus even if the same amount, women will experience a higher blood alcohol level than men. Also, women produce smaller amounts of the enzyme dehydrogenase, which helps break alcohol down, so this, too, adds to a higher blood alcohol concentration.
Neurological differences are also important to note. Regarding brain damage caused by alcohol abuse, both sexes had a reduction in the white matter. In men the decrease was observed in the corpus callosum region and in women the reduction was seen in regions of cortical white matter, which connects it to the gray matter. This indicates that different brain functions are impaired by alcoholism based on gender, although both men and women experience impaired thinking, emotional imbalance and memory problems.
Women are more apt to present with a co-occurring mental health disorder compared to men, especially depression. This is sometimes associated with the fluctuation of hormones in women that can exacerbate mood disorders when combined with alcohol abuse, as alcohol is a depressant.
When addressing treatment for alcoholism, it has been reported that women often avoid seeking treatment for several reasons. Sociological pressures preclude many women from entering treatment due to their roles as the primary caretaker of children and spouses. They hesitate to enter a residential program that would take them away from those who depend on her.
A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) looked at gender differences regarding seeking treatment. Research shows that women are more likely to seek care in a primary care setting rather than a specialized treatment program. This is often due to the particular challenges that exist for women, such as finding a program that offers childcare and economic barriers.
Female alcoholics share such problems as excessive feelings of guilt, depression and loneliness, which need to be addressed in the treatment process in order to rebuild self-esteem and confidence. A women’s rehabilitation program would focus on other gender-specific issues including pregnancy and childcare. In addition, women-specific treatment groups, treatment plans and female clinicians could foster a more open environment more conducive to trust and sharing.
It has been found that, at six months after discharge from a treatment program, women from the all-female recovery groups relapse less often than women in the co-ed programs. Women benefit when both the treatment program and the mental health professionals are focused on women’s issues and specific needs.
Sovereign Health Group is a California-based addiction, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment provider, offering several locations in our home state in addition to centers in Utah, Arizona and Florida. We have qualified, empathetic and experienced male and female staff to address all different walks of life. For more information on treatment for alcoholism, or our women’s only residential facility in Arizona please call (866) 819-0427.
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