Traditional substance addiction treatment can be prohibitively expensive, even with great insurance, and focuses the lion’s share of costs and services for 30, 60 and 90 day modalities.  There are extensions past the 90 day mark for sober living / recovery homes that may or may not be combined with various levels of outpatient services for their residents, but the whole first year of recovery often involves different locations, staff, and clients at each phase from detoxification to residential treatment, then outpatient separate from the location for their sober living / recovery home.  If long-term abstinence-based recovery is the goal (some believe it shouldn’t be), then this fragmented continuum of care in the first year of a person struggling with substance addiction can feel disconnecting, isolating and lack a cohesive and consistent sober support community, especially for women.

The need for a long-term recovery solution for women from their substance addiction is abundant:

  • In the U.S., nearly 20 million adult women use illicit drugs each year.
  • Women and men are equally likely to develop a substance use disorder, contrary to popular belief.
  • Childless women age 30-44 doubled their drinking rates between 2006 and 2018, and it has only increased since the COVID pandemic.
  • Some research indicates that women can become addicted to drugs after using smaller amounts of the drugs, or using for a shorter amount of time.
  • Alcohol is a risk factor for suicidal behavior and women have a higher risk than men do for suicide while intoxicated.
  • Female drug users are more likely to go to the emergency room for overdoses.
  • Overdose rates are skyrocketing! According to the CDC, U.S. drug overdoses hit a new all-time high of over 107,000 deaths during the 12-Month period ending August 2022, with over 30% being female, according to the NIH (National Institute of Health).
  • Less than 8% of those needing any kind of specialized recovery solution for their substance addiction received services, according to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. And less than 6% received a specialized recovery solution for both their substance addiction and co-occurring mental health issues. This is largely due to non-existent or inadequate health insurance.

Indeed, women have unique issues to address in recovery that need to be holistically addressed as they begin their path to recovery from substance addiction, often with co-occurring mental health issues and childcare challenges.

Women deserve a unique long-term recovery solution for their substance addiction:

  • According to the NIH, even women that are hurting from their substance addiction, on average, are less likely to take a step towards recovery than men.
  • More than 80% of women seeking a recovery solution for their substance addiction have physical/sexual abuse and/or 40-56% PTSD in their history, according to the NIH.
    • According to Psychology Today, around 75% of women patients have had at least one traumatic event in the past that may be contributing to their addiction, in contrast to 50% of men. Women are more likely than men to see their doctors for anxiety, panic attacks, depression and the like, and as a result are often prescribed medication for those conditions, some of which, ironically, can lead to addiction, especially opioids. 
  • Women of color may face unique issues with regards to drug use and treatment needs. For example, African-American and American Indian/Alaska Native women are more likely than women of other racial and ethnic groups to be victims of rape, physical violence, and stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Women with substance addiction experience significant prejudice due to societal attitudes and stereotypes of women who drink and use drugs, according to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).

There are specific issues that are hard for women to overcome with their substance addiction, according to SAMHSA:

  • Women tend to feel more stigma about issues around substance addiction, including engaging in a recovery solution based on gender roles and expectations.
  • Women tend to be responsible for the majority of parenting and are more likely to say no to a recovery solution in lieu of leaving their children.
  • Women’s partners do not always support the idea of a recovery solution, especially if they are engaging in substance addiction together.

According to NIDA (National Institute of Health), many women who enter substance addiction recovery suffer from low self-esteem, depression, or other co-occurring mental health issues; are in abusive relationships; have little access to medical, mental health, and social services; lack marketable job skills; and have child custody concerns. 

Being in a long-term recovery environment early on, such as a highly structured sober living /  recovery home that includes peer mentoring with women who have achieved long term sobriety, contributes to better recovery outcomes, according to the American Psychological Association.  These environments can provide the safe container over time to allow women in early recovery to thaw out, rebuild themselves in their recovery in a way that awakens them to a new experience, while also promoting sustainable recovery.  This involves discarding long-held shame and fear-based survival skills in favor of new effective coping skills based on forgiveness, compassion, honesty, personal responsibility, connection, and community.

We as a country need to focus on providing affordable access to long-term recovery solutions for women so they can enjoy the happy, joyous, and free lives they deserve.  Our society struggles with fragmented and maladaptive family systems, and being able to provide affordable and effective substance addiction recovery solutions that are sustainable for women could help end these cycles. We need to repair the systemic breakdown of family in our country, which contributes to poverty, crime, homelessness, and poor mental and physical health.

Photo Credit: Be Well Recovery


  • David vandervelde

    Executive Director and Co-Founder

    Awakening Recovery

    David got clean and sober in 1988 at the age of 19, close to death from his own struggles with drug addiction and alcoholism. Now 35+ years clean and sober, he has been consistently active in his recovery community by mentoring others, serving on recovery and youth related non-profit Boards such as LifeWorks and the West Hollywood Recovery Center, and serving on panels at institutions speaking from his own experience about recovery.   In 2015, David chose to transition from a 25-year career in producing large-scale corporate events for the sports, entertainment and non-profit sectors, to co-founding Awakening Recovery, non-profit a sober living in Los Angeles, as its Executive Director and Board member, helping those looking for a long-term recovery solution regardless of access to funds.  Additionally, David has successfully completed his Certificate in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling from UCLA.  He now devotes his personal and professional life to helping those that need it the most find a long-term recovery solution from chronic and acute drug addiction and alcoholism through the life-saving work at Awakening Recovery and in his recovery community at large.