Women who are addicted to heroin face unique risks and challenges during treatment. Recovering from an addiction to this powerful opiate demands all your personal strength and inner resources. In a rehab program that’s tailored to women’s needs, you can focus on your recovery with fewer social pressures and personal demands. Specialized treatment programs focus on the medical, psychological and psychosocial consequences of heroin abuse for females, such as:
- Heroin use and pregnancy
- Sexual abuse and opiate addiction
- IV drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases
- Heroin rehab and childcare
Heroin rehab programs for women offer a supportive environment that nurtures the healing process. As you go through recovery, you’ll learn manage the stresses that you face in your daily life without turning to opiates for relief.
How Does Heroin Addiction Affect Women?
Heroin abuse affects men and women differently. A study of recovering heroin addicts published in Substance Use & Misuse found that women and men displayed different patterns in their use of this central nervous system depressant:
- Female addicts were younger, in general, than their male peers.
- Women used smaller doses of heroin.
- Women abused heroin for shorter lengths of time.
- Men were more likely to inject heroin intravenously than women.
Heroin abuse affects every aspect of the users life, from her physical health to her psychological well-being and her relationships with others. All of these influences must be addressed in treatment if the addict is to achieve a full recovery. A report published by the Caron Foundation notes that there are important psychosocial differences between male and female heroin addicts:
- Women are more likely to come from dysfunctional families.
- Women are more likely to have emotional disorders in addition to heroin addiction.
- Women are more likely than men to identify family conflicts or abuse as triggers for their heroin use.
- Women are more likely to live with dependent children.
- Women are more likely than men to have been introduced to heroin by a significant other.
In therapy, women undergoing treatment for heroin addiction must take a look at the issues that drive them to use. Childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, fights with boyfriends or husbands, and the pressures of caring for children can drive women to abuse opiates. The pleasurable sensations brought on by heroin, a drug derived from morphine, can numb the pain of a life characterized by conflict, stress and fear. At an age when women should be planning their families, caring for children or developing careers, heroin robs them of the positive futures they deserve.
Health Risks of Heroin Use in Women
Heroin can have a devastating effect on a woman’s health. Because women generally have a lower body weight than men, they need less of this potent opiate to produce the same high, and the risk of overdose is higher. Heroin is a central nervous system depressant that slows all the body’s vital functions, such as breathing, heart rate and metabolism. Taking too much of the drug can quickly lead to respiratory depression and cardiac arrest, especially in smaller individuals. When heroin is taken with other depressants, like alcohol, the risk of overdose is even greater.
Many teens and young women are attracted to the glamorous, underground image of the opiate-addicted female. Models with excessively thin bodies and dark circles under their eyes reflect a dangerous trend called “heroin chic.” Heroin addiction in celebrities and musicians also attracts young women who may not be aware of the dangers of opiate abuse. Health Canada cautions that long-term heroin addiction can cause:
- Emotional instability
- Missed periods and fertility problems
- Loss of interest in sex
- Respiratory infections
Although women are more likely to snort or smoke heroin than use it intravenously, a certain percentage of females do “shoot up.” Intravenous drug use exposes women to blood-borne illnesses like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Female heroin addicts are also subject to malnutrition, a weakened immune system and overall poor health. The need to support their habit may drive them to prostitution or put them in unsafe situations where they’re at risk of sexual assault and abuse.
Heroin Rehab for Pregnant Women
Heroin addiction poses serious hazards to pregnant women and their unborn babies. The American Pregnancy Association warns that heroin can have a direct effect on the developing fetus by crossing the tissues of the placenta. Women who abuse heroin while they’re pregnant are at risk of miscarriage, premature birth and infant death. Their babies may be born addicted to heroin and may go into withdrawal after delivery, displaying symptoms such as:
- Low blood sugar
- Sleep disturbances
Heroin use increases the risk of low birth weight, birth defects and bleeding within the baby’s brain.
Fortunately, pregnant women who are addicted to heroin can withdraw safely and protect their babies by taking methadone, an opiate agonist that’s used to reduce the symptoms of heroin withdrawal.
Although heroin can harm an unborn baby, quitting heroin abruptly can also cause serious complications for pregnant women. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a supervised program of heroin withdrawal and rehab can prevent severe problems like premature labor and infant death.
Heroin addiction treatment for pregnant women includes these components:
- Pharmacological therapy with methadone to minimize heroin withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse
- Prenatal care and nutritional supplementation
- Medically managed pain control during and after childbirth
- Education on breastfeeding in opiate-dependent women
- Individual therapy to promote healthy self-esteem
- Life skills coaching and parenting classes
- Referrals to services like childcare, affordable housing and transportation
- Access to family planning services and contraception counseling
What to Expect From Heroin Rehab
The process of heroin recovery begins with detox, a process that takes place under clinical supervision by consulting physicians at a rehab facility, hospital or clinic. The goals of detox are to keep you medically stable and as comfortable as possible while the opiates are cleared from your body. Along with pharmacological support, you’ll have access to counseling services as you go through detox and prepare for the next phase of rehab.
Heroin addiction treatment programs for women may take place in an outpatient setting or at an inpatient facility, depending on how heavily you’ve been using the drug and how advanced you are in your recovery. Gender-specific treatment programs allow you to concentrate on the specific issues you face as a chemically dependent woman. As part of your treatment program, you can benefit from resources such as:
- Individual counseling to address the reasons for your addiction and help you build a sense of self-worth
- Therapy and medication management for co-occurring disorders, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
- Medication therapy for heroin addiction with drugs like methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone
- Peer group counseling sessions with other recovering women
- Adjunct therapies like acupuncture, massage or yoga
Recovery is never exactly the same for any two individuals, but women who are dependent on heroin share certain experiences and obstacles that bring them together in rehab. Your peers will be a source of support as you explore the sources of your addiction and learn new coping skills to deal with the pressures of the outside world. Through individual counseling, group counseling and family therapy, you’ll build the foundation for a stronger, more fulfilling life.
The addiction specialists at the Canyon understand that women have special needs in heroin addiction treatment. We provide comprehensive, customized treatment programs for women who struggle with heroin addiction and co-occurring disorders like depression, bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. If you are a woman who’s trapped in the cycle of heroin abuse — or if you have a daughter, wife, girlfriend or sister who’s addicted to heroin — we encourage you to contact us for information on our personalized recovery plans.