Mental Health

Multiple Disorders Leave Addicted Women MIA

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Women who suffer drug addictions often experience other disorders, such as mental illness or childhood trauma. Few treatment programs address all their needs, but a holistic drug-court program in California shows how it can be done.

drug protest(WOMENSENEWS)--Alexandria Harding wonders how different things might have been.

She and her siblings might have had a mother who took care of them.

Her grandmother's home might have been a place to go for special visits. "She would've been like the fun grandma."

But that's not how it was for the 21-year-old community college student who works part-time in a telecommunications customer-service center and asked that her name be changed to protect her family's privacy.

Today, Harding's mother is attending community college full time and talking about a nursing career. A program in Pennsylvania called Keystone Education Yields Success, or KEYS, assists her with tuition and costs.

Her mother has spent time in jail and prison for crimes related to drug addiction and come through in-patient treatment programs. Lately she's been around more, but Harding says she can't remember much about her mother from her childhood.

One of her mother's 10 children is now living with her but the rest are in a variety of places; with a grandmother, a father and foster parents.

That scattered family might be much more clustered around her mother, Harding can't help thinking, if she'd received the right treatment sooner.

National studies show that a very small percentage of women who need addiction treatment get it. A smaller number receive all the help they need. Nearly 3.6 million full-time working women were in need of substance use treatment, with only around 6 percent of those actually receiving treatment at a specialty facility, according to the July 22, 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report, published by the Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Lack of Access

Thirty-six percent of those who needed or perceived they needed treatment and tried to get it did not receive it, because of a lack of health insurance or being unable to afford the costs, reported the Center for Health and Justice, of Chicago's Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities, Inc., in 2006.

To benefit from treatment, women must often find a program that screens for and treats mental illnesses and trauma. But Hortensia Amaro, founder of two substance-abuse treatment programs for women in Boston, says success all depends on the kind of treatment a woman gets. Recovery success, she thinks, is most likely in programs that address the multiple, co-occurring disorders--clustered around mental health and trauma--from which many drug-dependent women suffer.

Her programs, for instance, provide work force training for women financially dependent on abusive partners; leadership and communication skills for women silenced by trauma; practical life skills such as budgeting, shopping wisely, writing a resume and looking for a job; and workshops in family reunification and communication.

Often, Amaro says, women with drug addictions have a history of trauma that started in childhood and continues into adulthood and is frequently related to physical and sexual abuse. A high rate of mental illness correlates to such traumas.

Women with drug addictions don't tend to be able to develop in a healthy manner, says Amaro, a professor and associate dean at Bouve College of Health Sciences and director of the Institute on Urban Health Research at Northeastern University in Boston.

"These issues impact who they choose as partners, the kinds of relationships they get in, their ability to care well for their children, even though they care a lot about their children," she said.

Another holistic treatment model is provided by the Dependency Drug Court of Ventura County, Calif., which offers a multi-agency, multi-discipline collaboration that includes public health nurses and mental-health services.

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