The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource Follow Us Follow Us on Facebook Follow Us on Twitter 
Professionals >> Visit The Body PROThe Body en Espanol

Drug Abuse and Treatment

Q. What are the consequences of drug use for women?

A. Research indicates that women can become addicted quickly to certain drugs, such as crack cocaine, even after casual or experimental use. Therefore, by the time a woman enters treatment, she may be severely addicted and consequently may require treatment that both identifies her specific needs and responds to them.

These needs will likely include addressing other serious health problems -- sexually transmitted diseases and mental health problems, for example. More specifically, health risks associated with drug abuse in women are:

Poor nutrition and below-average weight
Low self-esteem
Physical abuse
If pregnant, preterm labor or early delivery
Serious medical and infectious diseases (e.g., increased blood pressure and heart rate, STDs, HIV/AIDS).

Q. Why do some women refuse to seek treatment for drug abuse?

A. Many drug-using women do not seek treatment because they are afraid, they fear not being able to take care of or to keep their children, they fear reprisal from their spouses or boyfriends, and they fear punishment from authorities in the community. Many women report that their drug-using male sex partners initiated them into drug abuse and then sabotaged their efforts to quit using drugs.

Q. Is there a connection between drug abuse and HIV/AIDS?

A. AIDS is now the fourth leading cause of death among women of childbearing age in the United States. Substance abuse compounds the risk of AIDS for women, especially for women who are injecting drug users and who share drug paraphernalia, because HIV/AIDS often is transmitted through shared needles or syringes. In addition, under the influence of illicit drugs and alcohol, women may engage in unprotected sex, which also increases their risk for contracting or transmitting HIV/AIDS.

From 1993 to 1994, the number of new AIDS cases among women decreased 17 percent. Still, as of June 1995, the Centers for Disease Control and prevention had documented almost 65,000 cases of AIDS among adolescent and adult women in the United States. Of these cases,

Nearly 66 percent were related either to the woman's own injecting drug use or to her having sex with an injecting drug user;

About 36 percent were related to heterosexual contact, and almost half these women acquired HIV/AIDS by having sex with an injecting drug user.

Q. What treatment is available for women?

A. Research indicates that more than 4 million women need treatment for drug abuse. Unfortunately, there are some important reasons, as stated above, why many women do not seek help. Research shows that women receive the most benefit from drug treatment programs that provide comprehensive services for meeting their basic needs, including access to

Food, clothing, and shelter
Job counseling and training
Legal assistance
Literacy training and educational opportunities
Parenting training
Family therapy
Medical care
Child care
Social services
Social support
Psychological assessment and mental health care
Assertiveness training
Family planning services.

Traditional male-oriented drug treatment programs may not be appropriate for women because those programs may not provide these services. Research also indicates that, for women in particular, a continuing relationship with a treatment provider is an important factor throughout treatment. Any individual may experience lapses and relapses as expected steps of the treatment and recovery process; during these periods, women particularly need the support of the community and encouragement of those closest to them. After completing a drug treatment program, women also need services to assist them in sustaining their recovery and in rejoining the community.

Q. Where can I call if I have questions related to drug abuse?

A. A toll-free hotline is available to provide free, confidential answers to women seeking help for themselves or for someone they care about or to provide referral to a local drug treatment program. The National Drug Information, Treatment, and Referral Line is reached through 1-800-662-HELP; 1-800-66-AYUDA for Spanish-speaking callers. The hotline operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon to 3 a.m.

Q. Are there any additional on-line resources about drug abuse?

A. Yes, the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information's PREVline is an electronic communication system dedicated to exchanging ideas and information concerning alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug problem prevention. Home pages of federal agencies and services, clearinghouses and other related online services can be accessed through PREVline or directly through the following addresses:

Q. How can I locate a drug abuse treatment program?

A. A national directory of substance and alcohol abuse treatment programs is available on the internet.

For more information.....

You can find out more about substance abuse and treatment by contacting the following organizations:

American Council for Drug Education
American Council on Alcoholism
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information
National Cocaine Hotline
National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Hotline

See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
Visit Our "Ask the Experts" Forum on HIV Risk and Transmission
HIV Transmission Q&A
More on HIV Prevention


The content on this page is free of advertiser influence and was produced by our editorial team. See our advertising policy.