3 Hidden Costs of Women’s Addiction Treatment

Undergoing drug and alcohol addiction treatment is an important process that changes and can even save lives. However, getting treatment can also come with unexpected costs, some of which are not financial. These costs can be especially steep for women, who face unique societal pressures. If not addressed, the barriers can prevent women from attending and effectively completing treatment programs. It is important to understand and address factors that can impact women’s addiction treatment, because without rehab, many will continue to suffer. 

1. Having to leave your children and family

There are many issues women with substance use disorders face. A large proportion of women struggling with addiction are mothers. Some may also be the primary or only caregiver at home. Going to treatment for drug addiction and alcoholism can mean leaving one’s children for a period of time. This can be especially difficult for both mother and child for the following reasons:

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Shame and judgment. Society tends to be quite critical of mothers and their parenting decisions. Women may worry that by leaving their children to seek treatment, others will judge them for having an addiction in the first place, for being “selfish”, or for  “abandoning” their child while they get help.

Being away from your children. In the long run, treatment benefits the lives of both mother and child. However, this does not make the process any less painful for both parties. As the child of an addict, having your mother go away can be scary and feel like abandonment. Some children may be used to being left by their mother for drugs and alcohol. Unable to comprehend what is happening, they can feel as if they are being abandoned yet again. Mothers also may feel immense guilt and worry over causing their child additional pain. 

Child care and child custody issues. Some mothers face the challenge of being the sole caregiver to their child. In some instances, a trusted friend or family member is able to care for their child while they are in rehab. But this isn’t always an option for everyone. There may also be ongoing child custody issues and concerns that admitting addiction will result in the mother losing custody of their child.

Voices of women in recovery: Being away from your children

“Overwhelming, that’s the biggest word I can use. It’s overwhelming, it’s scary, because you went for so long in an alternate state of mind. Then you’re in a sober state of mind, so your thinking is completely different…for some of us, we try to do too much too soon. 

We want to be super moms, so to speak. But really there is so much harm that we’ve caused. By that, I mean, leaving our kids to go drink and use. It’s a long healing process for everyone..We spent so much time in active addiction. When we do get in treatment and start sobering up and we get some feelings back, we miss our kids. 

We can’t deal and we wanna be there. But at the same time, consciously we know if we don’t stay and work the program and do what we need to do, like we won’t be able to be there for them anyways…For me, I lost everything, so through getting sober, and going through treatment, I gained those things back.”


Why getting treatment helps the whole family

A great deal of pain and hardship is exposed during the recovery process. Not just for the addict, but also for their loved ones who have suffered as a result of addiction. Likely, there are still buried wounds and feelings to address. Working through emotions, issues and a difficult history of addiction is no simple feat. However, in the long run, getting clean and sober can strengthen families and relationships immensely. 

Women’s addiction treatment programming allows families to open up about the pain that addiction has caused them and work together to create a better way forward. Children and family members are given the opportunity to express their own pain and hurt, that they otherwise may not have had. In the end, this can lead to stronger relationships and better communication between mother and child. Treatment programs like Liberty Ranch’s Women’s Program considers these challenges, offering a safe and supportive space for families to rebuild.  

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Family therapy sessions and other services can help children understand why treatment is important and necessary. The process of explaining the reason for a mother’s absence will depend on the children’s age and their understanding of what is happening. Still, they should continually be reminded that they are not at fault for their mother leaving. There are several other steps parents can take to help their children understand treatment and addiction.

When it comes to child custody, many treatment programs help support the mother with reunification efforts and custody issues. Some states and districts even work in tandem to support the reunification process through specialized programs and services.  In fact, research finds that children in welfare cases whose mothers’ completed treatment or achieved significant treatment progress were 2.1 times more likely to be reunited with their biological mothers. Additionally, mothers who completed more treatment had a higher rate of progress. 

Although there may be costs to the family as a whole, including being away, in the long run, treatment serves all family members. As a mother, it is important to take care of yourself and prioritize your well being so that you are able to care for and support your children more effectively. Attending women’s addiction treatment will help you do so.

Women’s addiction treatment specialist stories: On mothers in recovery

“It’s really hard for women who have children and things like that and the family they leave behind…So we encourage them to stay connected..Some kids are standoffish and say, I don’t want to talk to my mom. Some kids are overjoyed and want to see them. You can’t ever tell…We highly suggest therapy, multi-family counseling with your kids, things like that.

But our main focus is to get the girls to think about themselves first. As selfish as that sounds, if they dont fix internally what’s going on with them, they cannot physically be there for their kids. So we push them to work their own 12 step program. Talk to your sponsor, put it on paper, write about it, things like that. 

We try to keep them in today. What can you do today for your child? You can call them and do those kinds of things. Let’s not think about tomorrow, because tomorows not here yet. And it can get very overwhelming. The main thing that we push is work on you first. Everything will fall into place afterwards.”


2. Dropping your defenses during women’s addiction treatment

Addicts are survivors. Many individuals who struggle with addiction have also experienced some form of neglect, trauma, physical or emotional abuse during their lifetimes. As a result of these experiences, some people may build up emotional defenses and cognitions. During treatment, these defenses can make opening up to the process harder for some and must be worked through. This can be challenging, as many are tied to the defense mechanisms that may have helped them cope with trauma and difficult situations throughout their lives. 

How trauma affects addiction

The relationship between trauma and addiction is an important one. Many professionals find a strong link between the two. Overall, women experience higher rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Individuals who have experienced trauma may be more likely to face addiction, and conversely, addicts may have a greater chance of being victimized. 

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Research finds traumatic life events to be a predictor for alcohol use disorders. Sexual assault is also associated with greater rates of problem alcohol use in women. Another study found that the odds of developing an addiction is even higher among men and women who have been victimized more than once. Sexual minorities were even more likely to be victimized during their lifetimes. The same study also found that childhood neglect has an important association with the development of substance use disorders later on in life. 

The relationship between addiction and trauma goes both ways. Past year crime victims have been found to have significantly increased rates of alcohol, cocaine, and opioid use disorders. Having other mental health conditions can also increase the likelihood of experiencing trauma. Women with substance use disorders and schizophrenia were found to have greater risk for violent victimizations and contracting HIV.  

The link is even more evident when looking at women in treatment. Research surveying a nationally representative sample of women who received treatment for substance use disorders found that 80% had a history of sexual and/or physical assaults. One in four of the women also currently had a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s clear that there is an important association between addiction and trauma, but what does this mean for women in treatment, and what are the costs to them?

Developing defenses from trauma

People form certain psychological defenses as a part of their development during childhood. Early on, these defenses can help infants and children cope with stress. Experiences during early childhood, and even after, can cause individuals to develop defenses and sensitivities that impact their wellbeing and relationships as adults. Trauma can certainly be an important factor in this. When a person experiences certain traumas, especially during childhood, the defenses they develop can lead to maladaptive behaviors later in life. This is especially true of those who have been abused or neglected or both during childhood. These children may show either a flatter or negative affect. In the long term, this can affect the way the individuals perceive and react to situations. Emotional abuse during childhood has been found to have a  significant effect on mental health. 

How do childhood experiences impact mental health and addiction?

Attachment theory, developed by John Bowlby, can help explain why those who have experienced abuse, neglect and trauma are more likely to struggle with issues like substance abuse and other problems. Attachment is essentially the emotional bond formed with other people, such as parents and family members. According to Bowlby and scholars after him, when childrens’ caretakers are physically and emotionally available and responsive to their needs, they develop a sense of security that allows them to comfortably explore the world and relationships. Our bonds with our primary caretakers can influence the rest of our lives and relationships.

When this doesn’t occur, or neglect, traumatic events, abuse or other issues are a factor, it is difficult for the child to develop a sense of a secure base, and they may develop an insecure attachment attachment style. This is a style of relating to oneself and others that can involve feelings of mistrust, anxiety and avoidance as well as accompanying dysfunctional behaviors.

Insecure attachment, is more common among those who have experienced physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and physical and emotional neglect. Attachment styles may impact a person’s personality and their relationships later in life. Insecure attachment is a predictor of depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Those with insecure attachment styles may struggle in relationships and many other aspects of life, including coping with stress.

For example, a young girl that is ignored or abused when she cries or gets upset may quickly intuit that expressing feelings will result in more neglect and abuse. As a result, the child may decide it is not safe to express sadness, hurt, pain or desire for comfort. To prevent abuse, the child learns to ignore her feelings and shut down emotions. As she grows up, she may even begin to believe that feelings are bad, useless, and a sign of weakness. She may even struggle to recognize her own wants, needs and feelings in a given situation. This is a hypothetical example of an avoidant attachment style.

Women’s addiction treatment specialist stories: On opening up to the process

“It just depends on the person. It can be easy and it just clicks for them and they get it, or it can be a path of many resistance. But, eventually, they can see that they need to be here. It just varies. Each person is different…They want it, but they just don’t realize how much work you have to put into it…Willingness, honesty, and just be open to suggestions and to learn, because we don’t know anything.  If we did, we’d be sober.”



During childhood, shutting one’s feelings down may have helped them survive and avoid abuse or other negative outcomes. However, as an adult, these self-protection behaviors can hurt a person. Shutting one’s feelings down means that a person is unable to express their needs. In some cases, the person may become so disconnected from their emotions that they don’t even know what they want or how to recognize their feelings. Therefore, they may struggle to ask for and receive the support and love they need. In this example, the defense that saved the woman from experiencing greater trauma as a child can actually lead to many relational difficulties in adulthood. Feelings, emotions and needs do not simply disappear. For some in this situation, substances may numb buried pain or help them to keep their feelings at bay. 

Other insecure attachment styles can lead to similar negative situations. For instance, those with anxious attachment styles may struggle with self-esteem and become anxious in relationships. They may blame themselves when things don’t work out and feel that others are better than they are. They may also use drugs and alcohol to cope.

Overall, individuals with insecure attachment styles may have difficulty trusting others to be there for them and many feel a sense of worthlessness deep down. Some may avoid feelings and emotions, while others actually aggressively seek out love, care, closeness and attention because they don’t trust others to willingly give it to them. There is a spectrum of behaviors that can form to protect oneself from pain. Substance use is one way.

Letting go of protective defenses and attachment traumas

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A big piece of treatment is addressing the addiction, but also the emotional issues that led to the addiction. This can mean delving into traumas, understanding why a person has developed certain defenses, learning healthier ways to identify and communicate one’s feelings, and learning new coping behaviors. This also means identifying and letting go of the defenses that for so seemed to protect the person from pain, but in reality caused more suffering. This is not an easy process. It can take a very long type and may require therapeutic support. Treating trauma and PTSD can be quite complex. Trauma-focused therapy may be beneficial to some. Dropping defense mechanisms and ways of thinking that may have served the person during childhood can be difficult and scary. It means opening oneself up to vulnerability, which is not easy. 

However, this delving into this process is a necessary part of recovery that ultimately leads to stronger, more fulfilling relationships, healthier communication, being able to have one’s needs met and developing a greater sense of self-worth. Treatment programs help clients learn more about their unhealthy defense mechanisms through individual, group and family therapy as well as peer support sessions. Although losing the defensive behaviors and mindset that protected a person for so long can hurt, in the long run, it is a small price to pay for a happier, healthier life. 

Women’s addiction treatment specialist stories: On recovery & burnout

Some women just get to where they burn out, so to speak. A lot of the time you can make it through that. They just get to where they don’t want to do anything, they don’t want to abide by the rules and they don’t want to do what the house suggests them to do…you just can’t get that one thought out of your mind..Just about everyone goes through that spurt in treatment.

We’ll sit them down in an individual or group setting, and we’ll talk about it…In the group settings, we address behaviors and concerns about other girls, and it’s peer driven, so the girls give their feedback and knowledge, and the staff, we give our feedback on what we know. A lot of the time the breakthrough is, reality sets in on them and they’ll realize, “my thinking is not correct. I’m thinking only about myself and what I want. Not the big picture and what’s best for me, it’s about what I want..”

9 times out of 10 it’s very successful. I swear by it. When you won’t hear yourself, you’ll hear your sisters. Meeting of the minds, so to speak…It’s pivotal. Everybody needs to know that everybody feels how they feel. You have to have that relatable aspect of it or your gonna feel so alone, Just don’t give up. Just keep going and pushing forward. Regardless of what’s thrown at you. Without a shadow of a doubt you can make it through anything in life and get sober and remain sober.”


3. Expectations of simply “getting better”

Society places numerous expectations on women that can cause stress, anxiety, and feelings of not being enough. Many internalize these pressures and judge themselves harshly against society’s invented standards. When entering  treatment, some women end up frustrated because they are not getting “better” as quickly as they would like. 

However, treatment is a process and it can take time. This is because a good treatment program does more than just address a person’s drug and alcohol use. Treatment seeks to address the factors that caused a person to become dependent on drugs and alcohol. Liberty Ranch offers therapy and counseling to get to the core of these issues. The women’s addiction treatment programming is tailored to address the unique issues women face in recovery and life. This means confronting and healing from deep-seated issues from the past. It requires the addict to learn healthier ways to listen, communicate and behave. These unhealthy behaviors, feelings and issues did not develop overnight. Expecting them to be solved immediately is unrealistic. It is a process of opening up and learning. It takes willingness, practice and patience.

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Overly high expectations of just “getting better” can also have negative consequences. Women may beat themselves up for not making progress quickly enough or, conversely, feel as if rehab is not working. However, this is rarely the case. Treatment takes time and has ups and downs. Some days addicts may feel as if they can accomplish anything and other days they may feel as if they will never get through their addiction. Rather than focusing on what is left to accomplish, it is more helpful to think about what you can control and do today. Taking things day by day releases the pressure to be perfect and instead allows the addict to focus on real actions they can take in the moment. 

Addicts deserve treatment

In sum, women struggling with addiction can find many a million ways to minimize their problem as well as prioritize the needs of others over their own health and wellbeing. This may be unintentional. It can be difficult to let go of the excuses one tells themself. However, these lies only fuel the addiction by allowing it to continue. It may allow the person to feel okay about continuing to use. The addict may even truly believe these lies. It can be hard to change one’s mindset and for them to realize that they deserve treatment and to live a happy and healthy life. Getting treatment forces a person to confront the untruths they tell themselves. If available, a women’s addiction treatment program focus specifically on the unique experiences of women as addicts, mothers, sisters, and daughters. The process will not be easy, but one must go through it and confront the painful feelings in order to heal.

Voices of women in recovery: Avoiding treatment

“I’m kind of a believer in, my journey is my journey, and I had to have every moment to get here today…For me it was just willingness to pack up and go that stopped me from getting help. You know what I mean? I had all of these excuses. A million and one reasons, which weren’t valid.  But in my mind, they made perfect sense as to why I shouldn’t go…The hardest thing was getting me out of the way. 

My head told me that I didn’t need treatment, that I was okay and that it wasn’t that bad when I was horrible. So it was just convincing myself…I would compare myself to others that I thought were worse than me. So I would build myself up on others’ detriment. I had a lot of “yets”. Like, I haven’t got there yet, I haven’t done this yet, so I’m okay. And when I get there, that’s when I know I’m bad off…So and so is doing this, but I’m not, so I’m okay. 

And then, I lied to myself and I told myself that people needed me, and they couldn’t make it without me, and that my dad needed me, my sister needed me and my kid needed me. But in reality, I wasn’t there for anybody…My family was done with me. No one wanted me in their home. You know, that kind of thing. In my mind it wasn’t that bad…But my biggest reason was I didn’t think I deserved to have any better in my life.”


Women’s addiction treatment: How to be supportive

If you are a loved one of a woman struggling with addiction, there are many ways that you can help her while she is in a women’s addiction treatment program and during the recovery process. In the end, the choice to get sober and find recovery is up to her.  Still, there are certain ways you can support your loved one in seeking treatment and during recovery. 

How to help and support a dry drunk

Be supportive

Most people do their best to be supportive of a loved one in treatment, but sometimes they may be unaware of how to do so effectively. Some people will try and be helpful by pointing out criticisms and problems. However, this isn’t always beneficial. Internally, most people are their own worst critics and hearing criticisms will only make them feel unmotivated. Identifying problems can just discourage the woman in your life from completing her treatment program. Instead, try and support her with words of affirmation and reminders of how important she is to you. Tell her that she deserves treatment and that you are proud of how far she has come. And take the time to learn about addiction, the biological and emotional effects of substance abuse and how to recover in romantic relationships or familial ones.

Attend family counseling sessions 

Engage in the recovery process as much as you can. Part of the recovery journey is mending relationships and creating better ways of communicating. You too play an important role in this. You may have anger and negative feelings about the ways in which her addiction has hurt you. Many women’s addiction treatment programs offer family counseling and therapy. This is an opportunity to talk about how you have been impacted. Also, remember that forgiveness takes time. You don’t have to necessarily sweep issues under the rug.  Focus on developing healthy ways to communicate your feelings and be heard during family therapy sessions. And remember, the goal is for everyone to heal and also move forward with more positive relationships. Things won’t change overnight, but if you also invest in addressing issues behind the addiction, everyone can move towards healing. 

Avoid pressuring your loved one to just “fix things”

Behaviors that contributed to your loved one’s addiction take a long time to form. It can be hard to break the patterns and thoughts that may have existed since childhood. Of course you want your loved one to get better. It is wonderful to be supportive and engaged in the process. However, being overly invested can add a layer of pressure. Be supportive, but don’t push your loved one. She knows there is likely a great deal of things to fix in order to move forward. Remember that you can’t make someone get sober. Having someone judge your every step during the recovery journey can make a person feel trapped and watched. Instead, positively recognize the progress she has made, even when it is something small.  

Be patient with her progress

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Your loved one has likely used drugs and alcohol as a crutch and a way to escape negative emotions for a long time. It can be hard and scary to confront the feelings behind the addiction. Sometimes you may feel your loved one wavering or even believe she is regressing. This may occur even while she is in a women’s addiction treatment program. That is okay. Recovering from addiction requires changing the thoughts, actions and behaviors that led to the addiction. It can take a while. Sometimes addicts become frustrated and feel like treatment isn’t working. This is a normal part of the process for many. Try being patient and offering an ear to listen rather than hurrying her progress. Ask a treatment specialist how you can be supportive, and learn to recognize the signs of relapse. Remind her to take things day-by-day, and tell her that you are proud of her progress rather than focusing on how far she has to go. 

Get support for yourself

Addiction has a huge impact on the loved ones of the addict. And the recovery journey is not a short or easy one. It can bring up many feelings and buried issues for all family members. You too likely have a great deal of emotions to process regarding your loved one’s addiction. Find a therapist as well as a peer support group to help you navigate the process and decompress. Families Anonymous and Nar-Anon bring together loved ones of addicts to confidentially share their stories, challenges and fears. It can be helpful to have people going through the same thing to talk to and learn from. Most areas have Families Anonymous or Nar-Anon meetings in-person or online.