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Condron, Ita (2016) Women and addiction. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 56, Winter 2016 , pp. 16-17.

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On 13 November 2015 the Dublin Business School (DBS) held a day-long conference on women and addiction.1 The conference sought to explore the challenges faced by women in addiction by promoting dialogue about the issues experienced by these women in contemporary Ireland, and about the challenges faced by those working in the field. The conference brought together practitioners, students, volunteers, and individuals and groups with an interest in women and addiction.

 

The conference was divided into two themes, which ran concurrently: women in addiction, and women in recovery. During the morning a number of speakers shared their knowledge, expertise and practice of working with women in addiction in Ireland. This article provides a brief overview of the ‘Women in Recovery’ theme. The opening address on the ‘women in recovery’ theme was given by the Dean of the DBS, who welcomed delegates, provided an overview of the college and applauded the students on the MA in Addiction Studies for organising the conference.

 

Gary Broderick, director of the Saol Project, spoke about trauma-informed care for women. Saol is the first woman-specific, feminist drug rehabilitation project in Ireland and is located in Dublin’s north inner city. It is for women who are seeking to recover from drug use and promotes the needs of female drug users and their children. Mr Broderick discussed how the needs of women who use drugs differ from those of men.

 

Many women who abuse drugs do so as a result of a specific traumatic event, such as physical or sexual abuse. Therefore ‘trauma-informed care’ is required to ensure interactions with women are informed by the impact of the trauma that they have experienced. Gary spoke about Lisa Najavit’s manual Seeking safety,2 in which she suggests that 99 per cent of women attending addiction services have experienced trauma and that 50 per cent will be found to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Gary highlighted that recovery for women is more complex, quite often because of the role they play in their families.

 

Drawing on findings from research, Dr Marguerite Woods focused on the image of women as users of drugs and as mothers, their experiences of stigma, their interactions with services, and the impacts of women’s drug use on their parenting role and relationships with others. The difficulties faced by women who use drugs include the stigma which is attached to being a mother who uses drugs, fears about the impact their drug use might have on their children and fears of losing their children because of their drug use. Dr Woods said that women who use drugs are often portrayed as villains rather than victims, and are viewed as victimisers of others, especially their children. Regarding the implications for policy and practice, Dr Woods highlighted the importance of addressing a woman’s needs rather than, or as well as, the needs arising from their drug use for their children and others. Gender-specific issues require exploration as do the issues of domestic abuse and a life after drug use for women.

 

Mary O’Connor, governor of the Dochas Centre in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, spoke of the needs of women in prison. She described the process that occurs when a women is taken into custody at the Dochas Centre. She said some women see prison as a means to accessing drug treatment, a safe haven where they can access services such as a GP, dentist or other specialist clinic. Ms O’Connor said the neediest of those in custody are more likely to be homeless, addicted to legal or illegal substances, and their imprisonment usually relates to their being a nuisance as well as a danger to themselves rather than their being a danger to society. 

 

At the end of the morning session, RADE (Recovery through Art, Drama, Education) participants performed their own drama, Get stoned, which challenges stereotypical perceptions of drug users, law enforcement, the community and politicians with regard to drug use.

 

The afternoon session comprised of a series of workshops, followed by a showcase of available services by a number of treatment service providers.

 

1 Further information on the Dublin Business School is available at http://www.dbs.ie/

2 Najavitis L M (2002) Seeking safety: a treatment manual for PTSD and substance abuse. Guilford , New York. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/3597/

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