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Stigma, Trauma, and Undiagnosed Disorders: Challenges Faced by Women in Recovery

Mar 18, 2021

Women beginning treatment for substance disorders face several extra challenges on their way to recovery. Without planning for these hurdles, they may slow down or stop a woman who’s trying to get sober. Today, let’s focus on three of the biggest challenges—stigma, trauma, and co-occurring disorders—and how a patient entering treatment can get help responding to each one.

Common issues women face in recovery are undiagnosed co-occurring disorders, trauma, and stigmatization. These hurdles can keep a woman from staying in treatment or successfully finishing a program. A woman with undiagnosed co-occurring mental health disorders or trauma may not realize how they affect her drug or alcohol use. Mothers with judgmental friends and family may try to hide their addiction instead of seeking help. A program designed to provide dual diagnosis treatment and family therapy can be a helpful resource for women who need a safe space to begin healing.

The Challenge of Undiagnosed Co-occurring Disorders

One of the most common issues women face in recovery relates to their mental health. A woman with a substance use disorder may have undiagnosed depression or anxiety. When this mental health disorder goes untreated, a woman may struggle with staying sober.

A treatment program for drug and alcohol use isn’t enough for a woman with a co-occurring disorder. She’ll need to understand how her mental health has been affecting her drinking or drug use. She’ll need to learn the skills to manage her responses to both disorders.

The Challenge of Stigmatization

In their roles as wife and mother, women may be shamed by friends and relatives for their struggles with alcohol or drugs. Judgmental comments may drive them to conceal the problem and not ask for help. They may stop spending time with people who comment critically about their substance use.

Stigma women face in recovery make seeking support and treatment even harder. A mother may feel she will risk losing them if she admits she’s got an addiction. She may feel like she’s protecting them by avoiding treatment, but her response to the stigma may be creating more problems for her and for them.

The Challenge of Trauma

Traumatic experiences can create challenges for women who need treatment for drug and alcohol use. The trauma could come from a current relationship, and she might feel she needs to hide physical or sexual abuse. The trauma could have occurred years before, even in childhood.

If her trauma has never been diagnosed or addressed, it’s possible a woman isn’t aware of how it’s affected her life. In treatment, she may begin to see how it’s been part of her self-medicating with substances. Also, she may become aware of how substance use led to more risks for trauma. In a treatment setting exclusively for women, a patient will discover trauma is a common experience among the group members.

Romantic Relationships in Early Recovery

Solid, loving connections are built on what each person brings to the relationship. Women in the early stages of recovery may be drawn to someone who’s new and offers unconditional support. But, the relationship can actually be a form of distraction from recovery and interfere with your work to achieve your sober goals.

If your past romantic relationships were troubled and short-lived, new relationships during early recovery could be the same. Part of the problem might be getting involved with people who weren’t stable and only added to your instability. Before beginning a new relationship in early recovery, consider the risks and talk to supportive people about your needs.

Managing Family in Early Recovery

Managing family members is an essential piece of addiction recovery for moms. You’ll want the support of children and a spouse or partner during the long-term process of healing. Set aside time to communicate with family (using an age-appropriate level for children) and gently explain what’s going on.

It’s helpful to set expectations for what changes are happening and may come next. You may need to invite a close relative to care for your children while you’re in treatment. Set up the family for success by preparing them for these changes to daily life. Look to your community for other moms who may be willing to step in and lend a hand, too.


Hannah’s House is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 866-952-5532.

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