About 4.5 million women in the United States are struggling with substance use disorder (SUD). Many of these women are also pregnant. Not only is alcohol and drug use dangerous for the mother, but it can also put the health of the developing fetus at risk. These risks can include miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects, and behavioral problems. Mothers who drink heavily also risk giving birth to an infant with fetal alcohol syndrome and cerebral palsy. These are both irreversible conditions.
Women who are pregnant and seeking help with drug and alcohol abuse may feel overwhelmed by finding treatment and figuring out the best type of program for their needs.
Finding an alcohol or drug rehab program that offers pregnancy-focused care ensures the health and well-being of both the mother and the developing infant. It also provides the mother with the medical care and emotional and psychological support she needs to complete addiction treatment successfully.
A variety of addiction treatment programs are available. Programs may be mixed-gender, meaning that men and women participate together, or they may be women-only.
They also may be faith-based or secular. For example, you may want to participate in a Christian or Jewish treatment program that integrates key tenets of your faith.
Some programs focus on treating particular substances use disorders. For example, some programs focus solely on recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD). Other programs may focus specifically on a different substance, such as opioids.
Some programs provide outpatient treatment, while others include inpatient care. If possible, it’s ideal to find a program that offers a full continuum of treatment, which means that it includes progressively less intense treatment starting with medical detox and moving toward outpatient treatment and finally to aftercare or an alumni program.
Women entering addiction treatment have also often experienced sexual abuse and domestic violence and may also be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result. In fact, rates of physical and sexual abuse among women with addiction who are seeking treatment are often as high as 55 percent to 99 percent.
Eating disorders and body image disorders also are often more common among women than men. If you have a co-occurring medical or psychological condition or addiction to multiple substances (also known as dual diagnosis), it’s also important to find a program with staff members who are familiar with treating patients who have co-occurring conditions.
Women who are seeking treatment for a substance use disorder often have certain needs or would benefit from some resources that men may not need. Obviously, pregnancy is unique to women and finding a program that includes pregnancy care is vital.
Other important resources that women typically struggle with include:
Many women who enter addiction treatment are also mothers. A program that incorporates childcare or resources for childcare can improve the odds of women not only participating in the program but also being successful at maintaining their recovery.
Women typically are tasked with the majority of home care and other family responsibilities, including caretaking for other relatives. If resources are in place to help women meet these needs while they are undergoing treatment, it lifts a great burden by allowing them to participate fully in treatment. This also improves odds for successful recovery.
Programs that offer training in parenting skills can be stressful can help women not only be better parents but also manage their stress levels. Finding healthier ways to manage stress can help avoid relapse.
Job training programs can help women find gainful employment and provide for themselves and their children. Women often earn less than men, which can create significant financial strain for women. Learning job skills can help women improve their chances of finding better-paying careers and create financial stability, which helps guard against relapse.
Women who have SUDs may also be experiencing difficult domestic relationships. Or, their addiction may be a cause of strain in their relationship.
A program that offers behavioral couples therapy can provide an important opportunity for women in treatment for SUDs and their partners to learn valuable communication skills. These skills can then help prepare for a more successful recovery and a stronger, healthier relationship moving forward.
Women-only (WO) programs are more likely to offer many of the resources included above. About 30 percent of treatment centers in the United States offer WO programs. Of these programs, about 13 percent offer resources for women who are pregnant or postpartum.
According to some research, women-only rehab programs don’t always appeal to all women. Sometimes women will also impose negative gender stereotypes onto other women or see other women as threatening to their relationships.
However, often once women enter WO programs, they do find that they feel supported. Also, a study that followed up with women 10 years after they had completed a WO program found that those women had fewer post-treatment arrests. It also revealed that women who were pregnant when they started the program had the most successful outcomes 10 years later.
Quitting alcohol cold turkey can cause powerful withdrawal symptoms including hallucinations, high blood pressure, fast heartbeat, delirium tremens (DT), and even death. It can also be difficult to quit other substances without professional help, including opioids, benzodiazepines, and other drugs. Because of this, it’s important to find a medical detox program so that you can be monitored closely during the withdrawal process.
By entering a medical detox program, you will be clinically monitored 24/7 to manage difficult withdrawal symptoms and ensure the safety of you and your developing infant. If you are ready to detox and begin the withdrawal process, find a reputable treatment center. Don’t detox at home. Complications can arise during drug or alcohol detox that are better left to medical professionals to manage.
It can feel overwhelming to try to find addiction treatment when you’re pregnant, but there is hope. Many programs offer pregnancy-care resources and other services to meet women’s needs. Women-only programs are also available, among other different treatment options. It’s important to go through a professional medical detox program to avoid the consequences of dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Evans, E., Libo, L., Pierce, J., Hser, Y. (2013, May 20) Explaining Long-Term Outcomes Among Drug Dependent Mothers Treated in Women-Only Versus Mixed-Gender Programs. In Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Greenfield, Shelly F. et al. (2010, June) “Substance Abuse in Women.” In Psychiatric Clinics of North America. from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Neale, J., Tompkins, C.N.E., Marshall, A.D., Treloar, C., Strang, J. (2018, Jan 24) Do Women with Complex Alcohol and Other Drug Histories Want Women-Only Residential Treatment? In Addiction. from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
(2018, August) Substance Use in Women. from from https://www.drugabuse.gov
(2010, January) Addiction in Women. from from https://www.health.harvard.edu