What are the Biggest Challenges for Women in Recovery?

Those who are on the road to recovery know that the journey itself is ongoing and can provide its share of formidable challenges. This is especially true for women who undertake the road to long-term sobriety and recovery. While both men and women face similar challenges in recovery such as detoxing, rebuilding relationships, and regaining both physical and mental health, women in recovery face unique challenges. In fact, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), formerly called the Federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, reported that about 2.7 million women in the United States abuse drugs or alcohol. This article relays five common hurdles that women face in sobriety will be discussed as well as ways to overcome those obstacles.

Trauma and Abuse

It is estimated that approximately 75% of women who have past substance abuse issues had a history of physical and /or sexual abuse. Women in recovery may have heavy baggage when it comes to dealing with past abuse because, in comparison to males, women who were or are chemically dependent have more perpetrators who had abused them,  were more frequently abused, and had endured abuse for longer periods of time.

In order to move forward in recovery, women who embrace sobriety must learn to embrace safety and find places (such as women’s self-help groups for example) where they can feel safe and empowered to confront the past, mourn the events and what had transpired, and most importantly, learn to reconnect with their true selves.

There are women-only support groups, online and in-person, across the country. Also, if you or the woman you know has a therapist, that person is a good reference for helping to find a safe place. A trusted friend can also provide a safe haven.

Dual Diagnosis

The presence of co-occurring mental disorders along with substance abuse issues is common across all demographic groups. Women who are recovering from substance abuse commonly experience the following psychological disorders:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder

For women, finding a treatment center that has an emphasis on the assessment, evaluation and subsequent integration of co-occurring disorders is crucial for long-term recovery outcomes. Additionally, women also need to find treatment and aftercare facilities that focus on the unique needs that women have regarding recovery, which is less punitive based and more towards empowerment and self-reliance.

Switching Addictions

In the process of working through the early stages of recovery, women who are newly sober may experience feelings that are very visceral and as a result, may feel difficulty in coping with these new feelings. In order to cope, women may transfer or switch addictions in order to rationalize or cover up feelings. Some common cross-addictions can be food, sex, work, and shopping among others.  The key to stopping this cross-addiction for women in recovery is for them to have the proper avenues to divulge and discuss these raw feelings. Having access to effective therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychotherapy may be good options. Both of these therapies are beneficial for women who truly want to kick their addiction, and not replace it.


When women come into recovery, they may have had previous or current partners that were/are substance abusers.  The width and breadth of their relationships were/are tied to drug or alcohol use. It is crucial that women new to recovery focus on themselves first and establish stability within themselves. It is also essential for women to realize and understand that their new self is not tied to the old self who fell in love with a substance abuser. Sometimes, women who are new to recovery often view substances in terms of relationships. A strong support system of family, friends and individual and/or group therapy can be very beneficial. Also, self-help meetings — online or in-person — just for women, can help bolster the newly sober female. Check out this Reddit forum which seems rather popular for recovering addicts and alcoholics. Or, read more about it first.

The “superwoman” Complex

Women have a lot on their plates. Maintaining a household, taking care of children and a husband and their career is a lot to juggle. When women who are sober complete treatment, they might feel pressure to fall back into their routines. The expectations of being a good wife, mother, and career woman can place undue burdens on those who are new to recovery. If there is no support or help, women in recovery are at risk of falling back into a stressful life and relapsing.

This is where family therapy can be a valuable resource for both the woman in sobriety and her family. Therapists work with each family member and the family unit to create a plan where each person pulls their share of the chores and activities. Family therapy can also be a catalyst in changing perceptions and attitudes.

Where Women in Sobriety Can Find Support

Know that there are self-help groups all across the country. You can find a list of them here. You are not alone and you do not have to go it alone. Women in sobriety have forged paths that the rest can follow. Read some inspiring stories here, and here.  Staying sober can be the most difficult challenge in your life. But it can also be the most rewarding. You are not alone in this journey. Your sisters have your back and walk beside you.

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