Addiction doesn’t discriminate.
Although many people assume that addiction is a problem associated solely with young men, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that middle-aged women are the fastest growing segment of people struggling with addiction. Overdose deaths among women age 30-64 have quadrupled since 1999.
Common Substance Abuse Patterns Among Middle-Aged Women
Addiction in middle-aged women can take many forms, but the most common forms of substance abuse include:
- Alcohol. Since alcohol is legal for anyone over age 21, it’s seen as a socially acceptable way to cope with stress. “Wine mom” culture encourages women to view a glass of wine at the end of the day as a well-deserved treat, but serious problems can arise when one glass turns into a bottle or more.
- Benzodiazepines. Valium was famously described as “Mother’s Little Helper” in the hit 1966 song from the Rolling Stones, so it’s not surprising that benzodiazepines continue to hold a high appeal to women struggling with anxiety. However, these drugs are not intended for daily long-term use and can be highly addictive.
- Opioid painkillers. Middle-aged women are often prescribed opioids to treat pain from arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other chronic conditions, but these drugs have a high potential for abuse. Additional problems can occur when a woman starts mixing alcohol and opioids.
- Heroin. If a woman develops a severe addiction to opioid painkillers, she may struggle to obtain enough pills via doctor shopping or black-market purchasing. She may turn to heroin as an easier and cheaper way to get the same high.
Factors Contributing to Addiction
There’s no single reason why anyone develops a substance use disorder. Addiction is a biologically-based illness with a number of potential environmental triggers. However, the following issues are often speculated to play a role in the increase in substance abuse among middle-aged women.
- Parenting. Despite our efforts to promote gender equality, the bulk of parenting demands still fall to women. Today’s parents are also expected to be much more “hands-on” with their children than those of previous generations.
- Marriage. The expectation that women are caretakers and nurturers means that marital stress often has a greater negative impact on a woman’s health.
- Work. Americans work longer hours than people in other industrialized countries, with night and weekend work becoming more common. This makes it even harder to juggle the demands of a family.
- Body image. Culturally, youth is associated with beauty. The natural changes associated with aging can be difficult for many women to accept, especially those who placed a high value on their looks when they were younger.
- Mental health stigma. Talking about mental health struggles is considered taboo in many social circles. This can increase the feelings of isolation that many women are already experiencing.
- Regret over past life choices. In middle age, it’s common for people to have regrets about certain aspects of their lives. Remaining childless, sacrificing a career to be a stay-at-home mother, or getting a divorce are just a few examples of decisions that might cause a woman a great deal of regret if they didn’t match the life she once envisioned for herself.
Effects of Addiction
Addiction in middle-aged women tends to develop gradually, so the signs of a serious problem might be subtle at first. Women who’ve always taken pride in their multi-tasking skills might be able to hide their struggles from loved ones initially, but the problems caused by drugs or alcohol will eventually become too great to ignore.
Substance abuse can cause:
- Stress in relationships with a spouse or romantic partner
- Stress in relationships with children
- Financial problems related to using money for drugs or alcohol instead of paying bills
- Problems with work performance
- Risky sexual encounters, including extramarital affairs
- Legal problems, such as a charge for driving under the influence or a complaint of child neglect
- Physical complaints, including headaches, nausea, fatigue, or weight changes
Ignoring these signs of addiction can lead to a potentially fatal overdose. As tolerance to an abused substance develops, it’s easy for an individual to accidentally take more than the body can handle.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no reason to wait until you hit “rock bottom” to get help for a substance use disorder. Addiction is like any other illness in that it’s easier to treat when the problem is addressed promptly. Do not wait until a crisis occurs before you take action.
At Waypoint Recovery Center, addiction treatment is personalized to fit the needs of each individual client. Services can include detox, family therapy, group therapy, and individual therapy. Residential treatment is typically recommended for a severe dependency, but intensive outpatient care can be a good option for women seeking early intervention and a way to get the support they need while still juggling family and work responsibilities.