What’s holding women back from seeking treatment for addiction

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Fewer than 11% of women with a substance use disorder actually receive treatment. This statistic was revealed in a recent study from Penn State that analyzed the responses of 461 women to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2015 to 2019.

The researchers looked specifically at the responses of women who needed treatment for drug or alcohol use but didn’t actually seek any. They found that there were many reasons why women weren’t seeking treatment, including concerns about stigma, logistics like transportation and childcare, and simply not feeling ready to stop using.

Interestingly, the study found that women who were employed and educated were less likely to seek treatment because of concerns about stigma, healthcare coverage, and affordability. This shows that there are many complex factors at play when it comes to why women aren’t seeking help for substance use disorders.

Among those who said they were not ready to stop using substances, less than half of the women were employed or had more than a high school education. “The ‘Just Not Ready’ group is likely more socially disadvantaged than the other groups and denotes the need to address basic needs like employment and housing in addition to interventions for substance use disorders,” said Hannah B. Apsley, lead researcher on the study, in a Penn State news release.

Given these findings, what can be done to encourage more women to seek treatment? The researchers recommend a variety of interventions, including educational programs to reduce stigma and counseling approaches like motivational interviewing that can help people work through their uncertainty and find ways to make positive changes in their lives.

Because there are so many barriers happening at the same time for women seeking treatment, the researchers suggest that clinicians and practitioners should understand that there is often not just one reason why a woman might not seek treatment. Stigma, logistics like transportation and childcare, the lack of perceived need for treatment, and a lack of readiness for even starting treatment could all be factors for women across economic, educational, and cultural lines.

“It is not enough to address logistical concerns like providing childcare or financial support to incentivize women to seek treatment,” Apsley said.

The study was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

If you are seeking help for substance use disorder, Emily’s Hope has compiled a list of resources.