Women and sobriety: 3 critical steps from addiction to sobriety

From hitting bottom to getting help, we outline the 3 steps for women seeking a sober life. More here.

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The road to recovery is hard for everyone, but when you’re a young woman attempting to get sober, well, it’s especially tough. Don’t let that discourage you though! There’s hope and lots of it. Below, I’ve outlined three vital steps for achieving and maintaining sobriety.

1. Active Addiction – Hitting a Bottom

Before we get better, we have to get worse. This is what’s referred to in recovery as “hitting a bottom.”

When most people hear the term rock bottom, they think of a homeless, begging, addict. This simply isn’t true. There are as many types of bottoms as there are people in recovery. For some women, bottom is losing the trust of their family. For others, it’s legal trouble, or a near death experience. For still others, bottom is the inability to continue living in active addiction. In recovery, we call that being spiritually bankrupt.

Can addiction affect women differently than men?  Absolutely. But whatever form a woman’s bottom takes, the results are often the same. They reach out for help.

2. Treatment – Seeking Help

Just like there are a ton of different bottoms, there are a ton of different types of treatment for women’s addiction. There’s individual counseling, addiction therapy, intensive outpatient, medical detoxification, partial hospitalization, short-term inpatient, and long-term inpatient. That’s not even all of them, just the most popular! Regardless of which treatment someone chooses, they should know the pros and cons of each. Find brief descriptions of each below.

Medical Detoxification – Medical detoxification is the process of detoxing one’s body from drugs and alcohol. Many drugs produce physical withdrawal symptoms and detox is a vital part of treatment. These drugs include: alcohol, benzodiazepines, opiates, and various synthetic drugs. Medical detox usually lasts five to seven days and consists of a taper. This means that a withdrawal medicine (think buprenorphine) is given in decreasing doses each day. The downside of detox is that it only addresses the physical aspects of addiction. A women can leave detox after a week and relapse into old behaviors.

Addiction Therapy – Addiction therapy is much like individual counseling, but offers a few unique advantages. The therapist is specially trained in addiction medicine and has resources at their disposal that normal therapists don’t. An addiction therapist can recommend specific courses of action to cut down on substance abuse or other harmful behavior. An addiction therapist can refer women to self-help groups. Finally, if needed, an addiction therapist can refer women to higher levels of care.

Individual Counseling – This is simply having a therapist. For many women, having someone to talk to about issues driving their addiction helps tremendously. Sometimes though, simply having a therapist to talk to isn’t enough.

Intensive Outpatient (IOP) – IOP offers group and individual counseling in a structured, recovery-centered environment. IOP’s typically meet three to four nights a week, for a few hours each night. There are groups dedicated to process therapy, healthy behaviors, time management, and twelve-step involvement. The major drawback of IOP, like individual counseling and addiction therapy, is that for some women it simply isn’t enough.

Partial Hospitalization (PHP) – PHP is a lot like IOP. It offers group therapy, and individual counseling, with a focus on recovery. The major difference is that PHP usually takes place Monday to Friday, for eight hour a day. Think of PHP like having a job, only that job is being in treatment. The drawback to PHP is that it still leaves women seeking help with lots of free time on their hands. It’s easy to go to group during the day and drink or drug at night.

Short-Term Inpatient – This is probably the most well known form of treatment. Short-term inpatient is when a woman spends twenty-eight days in a residential treatment center. Residential treatment consists of all the groups from IOP and PHP, but the clients also live on site. After hours activities include: peer therapy, twelve-step groups, life skills training, and staff support. The downside here is short-term inpatient lasts twenty-eight days. For many women, this isn’t enough time to address the complex disease of addiction.

Long-Term Inpatient – Long-term inpatient is much like short-term, but, as the name suggests, lasts longer. A woman’s length of stay is individualized to meet her own unique needs, but is usually a minimum of ninety days. This allows for a comprehensive tackling of addiction and offers a better chance at recovery. The drawback to long-term treatment is simple – many women aren’t ready to stay sober. To put it another way, they haven’t yet hit bottom.

3. Post-Treatment and Long-Term Recovery

This is where the rubber meets the road. So a woman goes through treatment, well, now what?

Post-treatment is at the heart of recovery. While hitting bottom and seeking treatment are crucial, they don’t offer sobriety unless followed by more action. Action means different things to different women, but usually takes the form of: involvement in twelve-step fellowships, sober housing, individual and family therapy, spiritual growth, and constructive hobbies. If a woman begins to engage in some (or all!) of these things, they have a pretty good shot at long-term recovery.

Remember though, we didn’t become sober women to be miserable, so don’t forget to have fun!

About the author
Fiona Stockard is a writer and media specialist for Lighthouse Recovery Institute. She’s been in recovery since 2008 and finds no greater joy than helping other young women achieve and maintain long-term recovery.
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