Special Populations – Women and Meth

Women use methamphetamine at rates equal to men. Use of other major illicit drugs is characterized by ratios of 3:1 for men to women (heroin) or 2:1 (cocaine). In contrast, in many large data sets, the ratio for methamphetamine users approaches 1:1. Surveys among women suggest that they are more likely than men to be attracted to methamphetamine for weight loss and to control symptoms of depression. Among women, methamphetamine-related drug disorders may present different challenges to their health, may progress differently, and may require different treatment approaches. Over 70% of methamphetamine-dependent women report histories of physical and sexual abuse, and are more likely than men to present for treatment with greater psychological distress. Many women with young children do not seek treatment or drop out early due to the pervasive fear of not being able to take care of or keep their children, as well as fear of punishment from authorities in the larger community. Consequently, women may require treatment that both identifies her specific needs and responds to them.

Pregnant women and women with small children frequently require increased levels of care. While it may be possible to treat pregnant women in intensive outpatient treatment, attention must be given to monitoring and promoting proper prenatal care with these women while in treatment. In addition, it is important that clinical staff be capable of working with pregnant women who relapse in treatment. Frequently there is an extreme lack of empathy exhibited by staff and other patients toward women who relapse during their pregnancy. Clinical staff who can properly address these treatment situations and effectively move these patients to more intensive levels of care when necessary is essential. Women with small children frequently require an increased level of support, either via a women’s and children’s residential setting or an intensive day treatment setting with sober housing for women and children. The combined burdens of work, home care, childcare, and other family responsibilities, plus attending treatment frequently can induce such a level of exhaustion and fatigue that methamphetamine use may appear to be the only way to acquire sufficient energy to accomplish all of the responsibilities. Clearly under these circumstances, special treatment considerations are needed.