06 March 2024

More women encouraged to feel empowered and seek support for drug and alcohol use

Research@2X (2)

Ahead of International Women’s Day, national charity WithYou urges women to come forward for free and confidential advice and support with drugs and alcohol

Women and men's experience of using drugs and alcohol, in accessing support, and in engaging in treatment are often very different.

Men make up the majority of the drug and alcohol treatment population and services are often designed and centred on their needs. For many women, services with male-dominated service user populations can be daunting and intimidating places.

A proportionately higher number of men experiencing drug-related harm means women are being side-lined in policymaking and service development, despite their specific needs. Women often face additional stigma as the primary caregivers and are disproportionately disadvantaged in the criminal justice system, and face barriers entering services which can trigger memories of abuse and trauma.

WithYou’s research, A System Designed for Women?, shows how women who have already faced traumatic experiences and set-backs throughout their lives – such as abuse, domestic violence, cultural stigma and family breakdown – are held back from getting support by services and a system that often lacks the capacity and flexibility to cater for their needs.

We aim to continuously improve our own understanding of what interventions and models of support are most effective in engaging and providing treatment that fits women's needs, and that women want to engage in.

Research by Agenda found that women who have experienced domestic abuse are also eight times more likely to develop a problem with drugs then women who haven’t.

Kelly, a previous client of WithYou in Darlington at STRIDE began ‘experimenting’ with drugs in her late teens and was first introduced to crack cocaine at the age of 22, using it alongside other drugs and alcohol to mask her trauma:

“I’d gone through postnatal depression - almost died from giving birth to my little boy. There was so much going on with my mental health - so much hurt. My sister’s partner died in 2015, I was in a toxic relationship - he was a heavy drinker, there was domestic violence. The person that I was, was very chaotic; I dealt with things in the wrong way. I was irrational and up in the air.

“The day I ruined myself was by picking up crack cocaine again. It was just a release for me. It just took away all those emotions and those feelings. It had such a detrimental effect on my mental health - I didn't want to be here any more. In April 2022, my children were temporarily removed from my care.

“I came to WithYou absolutely broken. It was the hardest time of my life. I wanted my children home. I wanted to do anything I had to do - I had to reach out. I wanted anything and anyone to help me sort my life out, and thankfully I got that help.”

Thanks to the determination and support of Kelly and WithYou alongside partner, Recovery Connections which runs a women and mothers recovery group, Kelly was able to stop her drug use and despite a number of challenges and legal processes, her children were legally returned to her care. Today, she continues to support other clients at the service as a volunteer and advocates for women and mothers.

WithYou encourage more women struggling with trauma-related use of alcohol or drugs to seek help.

Sarah Allen, WithYou Executive Director, said:

“Accessing mainstream services can be difficult for certain groups and to help more people, we need to reach out to different communities, including women, tailoring the services we provide.

“Throughout WithYou services, we continue to take steps to improve women's experience of accessing treatment. However, we know there is more we can do to improve our own services, ensuring they are inclusive and accessible to all women in need of support and treatment.

“In order to help combat this, female voices must be acknowledged and centred across the health and care system.

“It might seem overwhelming to others who find themselves in a similar situation to Kelly, but there is help, there is light and we are ready to support you - without judgement.

“We really want to encourage anyone who’s struggling with alcohol or drugs, to reach out for help. We are with you, every step of the way.”

WithYou understands that reaching out and accessing support for drug and alcohol use can be difficult with some women preferring to access materials digitally, often looking for self-help online. WithYou’s Webchat  offers free, expert advice on issues relating to drugs, alcohol and mental health, staffed by a specialised team of advisors trained to offer brief interventions, advice, signposting and emotional support.

If you are concerned about your drug use - or someone else’s - we're here to help you. You’ll find a warm welcome and free, non-judgmental support and advice from WithYou services and teams across England and Scotland. If you have any specific concerns about accessing our services, we encourage you to get in touch with your local service, using our service finder, where we can talk through the different options available to you.

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