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Competency 4: Prevention

Techniques to Engage Women Who Abuse Substances Into Treatment and Recovery

Women face many barriers in accessing treatment. The box below presents some of these barriers.

Barriers for Women in Seeking Treatment

Personal barriers (the woman’s feelings and life situation)

  • Shame and guilt
  • Denial of problem
  • Fear of losing primary relationships, support, and security
  • Overwhelmed by other personal issues (housing, violence) so that treatment is not a priority
  • Sole custody of children and fear of losing custody due to substance use

Interpersonal barriers (family, partner, peer relationships)

  • Fear of losing children to partner or child welfare
  • Lack of family or social support (denial, resistance to treatment)
  • Tendency to be involved with partners who use substances themselves or hide the woman’s substance abuse

Societal barriers (broader community and societal attitudes)

  • Stigma attached to women who misuse substances
  • Stigma attached to women who seek treatment
  • Internalized stigma
  • Greater pressure not to enter treatment

Program/structural barriers (treatment services and structure)

  • Male-oriented identification and treatment models
  • Lack of flexible services (time, duration, criteria for entry)
  • Lack of a program, information, or strategies to effectively reach women who need treatment
  • Cost of treatment and costs associated with treatment (especially child care and transportation)
  • Lack of women-centered services
  • Lack of low-cost reliable child care

Source: Adapted from Currie, J.C. 2001. Best Practices Treatment and Rehabilitation for Women with Substance Use Problems Exit Disclaimer Graphic. Ottawa: Health Canada.

Addressing such barriers is important in engaging women geographical differences in needs among women who abuse sustances.  Techniques for enhancing access to care include:

  • Treatment approaches that respond to women’s needs
  • Treatment approaches that reflect women’s realities
  • Treatment services that are available to all women but are based on an individual woman’s specific needs and circumstances
  • Approaches that reflect ethnic, racial, cultural, linguistic, and geographical differences in needs among women who abuse substances

Additional methods for engaging women into treatment include:

  • Raising community awareness of substance use problems among women at risk and providing information on available services.
  • Enhancing the knowledge and skills of those in a position to identify, refer, and support women with substance use problems to access treatment. These may include community leaders, community peers, religious leaders or spiritual advisers, primary care providers, and other service providers, such as mental health and child welfare.
  • Improving treatment access through outreach, especially to underserved populations.

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