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Treating alcohol problems in women

Barriers to treatment

Women with alcohol problems are half as likely as men to have received  treatment for alcohol use problems (Weisner & Schmidt, 1992). Reasons for this difference may include:

  • lack of disclosure due to women's ability to hide alcohol use and related problems
  • child-care issues
  • lack of financial resources, especially among older women.

Approaches to treating women with alcohol problems

Research on treating and managing alcohol problems in women has revealed some effective approaches:

  • Brief interventions can decrease heavy drinking and alcohol-related morbidity (Manwell et al., 2000). These interventions include motivation-for-change strategies, patient education, assessment and direct feedback, contracting and goal setting, behavioural modification techniques and using written materials such as self-help manuals.
  • Treatment that is women-specific is more effective than mixed-gender treatment (Blow, 2000).
  • Continuing to participate in mutual aid groups once abstinent helps to prevent relapse in women (Blow, 2000).
  • Taking naltrexone two hours before an anticipated high-risk situation reduces alcohol consumption in early problem drinkers, particularly women (Enoch & Goldman, 2002).

In addition, women can benefit from:

  • counselling about the low-risk drinking guidelines
  • pharmacological treatment [link to "Medications for alcohol use disorder], such as naltrexone
  • women-specific mutual aid groups (e.g., Women for Sobriety)
  • parenting support, such as parenting classes or groups
  • assistance with child care so they can attend treatment
  • referral to trauma treatment (e.g., related to violence, abuse)
  • assessment and treatment of underlying mood disorders.

All treatment should be trauma informed and gender responsive to reduce barriers to care and to enhance treatment retention.