While there are some general, yet quantifiable, differences between males and females in terms of biology and physiology, there are seemingly endless dichotomies between these two genders in terms of social norms and expected behaviors. From preferences to habits, from tendencies to relationship expectations – we’ve created cultural binaries and placed men and women on opposing sides. This results in measurable differences that have real impacts on physical, mental, and emotional health.
We know about how alcohol has varying physiological afflictions on these two sexes, but we haven’t yet adequately considered the different approaches required to address how men and women must approach recovery. Because women are “less likely to seek treatment” for an alcohol use disorder and instead “tend to seek care in mental health or primary care settings,” women are immediately at a disadvantage when it comes to addressing dependence and addiction (Gender and Use of Substance Treatment Services). Part of this is due to a heavier stigma placed upon women when it comes to substance abuse – leading women to not only avoid such a diagnosis but also be less able to recognize one – and it seriously damages a woman’s ability and likelihood to recover.
In order to address this disparity, we must recognize the ramifications not only presented by physiological divergence, but also those created by an arbitrary, two-sided culture. By seeking equality, we fail to achieve equity. Our response must be to acknowledge these distinctions while they continue in light of gender-specific norms. We must accept the unique needs of different cohorts – be they by gender identity, ethnicity, or the unpredictable nature of individuality.
As it relates to women in need of treatment for alcohol use disorders, a crucial next step in improving care and outcomes would be to collaborate with mental and primary healthcare providers. If women are failing to see the addiction within their anxiety or depressive symptoms, they must be defined. Mental and primary healthcare providers should receive additional training on recognizing alcohol use disorder in women of all ages, and they should have appropriate and specialized referrals they can make. In this way, we address one of the first and most crucial obstacles – helping people to recognize that they have an unhealthy and toxic relationship with alcohol.