sealPurdue News

October 1996

Female drug abusers find it more difficult to get help

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Women have more difficulty than men getting drug treatment and sticking with it, according to a Purdue University study.

"Only 31 percent of the clients in drug and alcohol treatment centers are women. But given the numbers of women whom we believe are abusing drugs, the split should be 50-50," says Robert Lewis, Purdue's Norma H. Compton Distinguished Professor of Child Development and Family Studies.

Lewis directed the six-year study of drug treatment therapies for women at centers in the Phoenix area. The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"Most drug treatment programs in the United States are developed by men, with men and for men," he says. "It's rare that drug treatment takes into account the special needs of women."

The most frequent reasons given by women for discontinuing drug therapy sessions were the lack of child care and transportation. Lewis says often women not only care for young children but also are the primary caregivers for elderly parents or disabled husbands. "Significant others and family members may resist a woman's staying in residential treatment or transporting her to outpatient sessions because this disrupts the family system," he says.

And, if a woman is pregnant, most agencies will not treat her because of liability problems. "Detoxification is difficult for pregnant women," Lewis says. "It's ironic that just at the time when you'd think that we want women to stop abusing drugs, they can't get help."

Other factors that can keep both men and women from receiving drug treatment include cost and availability. Residential programs can costs thousands of dollars. Lewis says women often find few places where they can seek treatment, and the agencies that are accessible to them usually have long waiting lists.

Safety is another factor in getting to treatment centers. "Drug programs rarely are found in the women's own neighborhoods," he says. "Traveling at night -- even in one's own vehicle -- can be dangerous," he says.

CONTACT: Lewis, (765) 494-2931; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page