Do Women Relapse for Different Reasons?

By Sarah Beller 05/17/12

Addiction expert David Sack outlines the main challenges that female addicts face, but says they're still less likely to relapse than males.

Dr. David Sack, expert on addiction...and
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An article over at PsychCentral by David Sack, MD—an eminent addiction psychiatrist and CEO of some well-known addiction treatment programs like LA's Promisesstates that women face a different set of challenges from men when it comes to staying in recovery. But is recovery really much different for women than it is for men? Here are Dr. Sack's "Top 5 Reasons Women Relapse":

1) Getting into Romantic Relationships Too Soon

Sack claims women are more likely than men to relapse as a result of romantic ups-and-downs: "until their new coping mechanisms are securely in place, it is not unusual for relapse to follow every time a relationship goes wrong."

2) Unrecognized Love, Relationship or Sex Addiction

Women are allegedly more apt to “transfer” their addiction to the realm of relationships, substituting in a sex or love addiction when they give up drugs. For women especially, says Sack, "the challenge of being alone, feeling worthless or unloved when not in a relationship, or needing the attention of prospective partners to boost self-esteem can all point to a deeper issue of sex and relationship addiction."

3) Undiagnosed Psychiatric Disorders

Undiagnosed psychiatric disorders may pose more of a threat to women, because negative feelings and depressed mood commonly cause them to relapse, whereas men are apparently more likely to “relapse as a result of positive emotional states.”

4) Stigma and Lack of Support

Women are likely to have greater care-giving responsibilities than men, and may therefore feel more pressure to return home to their families after rehab. Jumping back into old roles and routines may make it hard to stay sober.

5) Inadequate Coping Skills

Women, claims Dr. Sack, demonstrate “poorer coping skills” than men. In the absence of drugs and alcohol, he feels women may have special difficulty finding new, healthy ways to manage stress. 

Despite these potential threats to their recovery, Sack says that women's strengths include being more likely to engage in group counseling and "more willing to admit a problem" and subsequently, women are less likely to relapse overall than men, he claims.

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Sarah Beller is a writer and the Executive Director at Filter. She has written about drug policy with a focus on harm reduction for Substance.comThe Fix and Salon. She has worked as a social worker with formerly incarcerated people in New York for a number of years. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’sThe HairpinThe ToastReductressThe Rumpus and other publications. You can find Sarah on Linkedin and Twitter.