Now that Dry January is over, many women will resume regularly imbibing alcohol while presumably living safe, peaceful, and productive lives.
But it’s not that simple for women who want to overcome the disease of alcoholism. As a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 40 years, I can personally attest to the fear, loneliness, and confusion that often greets women in the infantile stages of sobriety and drug addiction recovery.
Many have lost everything: homes and jobs, family and friends, hope and confidence – and their dignity. They are often left with a path of destruction and no safe and supportive place to live. For them, there is no recovery in consumption without dysfunction. Not now, not ever. And that reality can be incredibly daunting.
Recent data on women and alcohol consumption is grim: where men once made up the vast majority of alcoholics, we women have significantly closed the gap. We develop alcohol problems earlier in life than men and without drinking as much. Our disease makes us more susceptible to health problems such as liver disease, heart disease, breast cancer and brain damage. Yet we are less likely than men to use services to treat alcoholism.
Our untreated disease has a cost to all of society, especially from an economic point of view. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that heavy drinking alone cost the United States $249 billion in 2010 due to lost workplace productivity and expenses related to health care, criminal justice, to motor vehicle accidents and property damage. That cost has likely increased dramatically over the past decade, and about 40% of those dollars are paid for by federal, state, and local governments.
In 2021, Dawn Sugarman, a research psychologist at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts who has studied addiction in women, told NPR that women with alcohol use disorder recover more successfully when they were in women-only treatment groups. focus on trauma and mental health. No wonder. Women are more likely than men to experience childhood sexual assault and abuse, which researchers believe is often a driving force behind their alcohol use.
Sadly, many women become sober or clean only to find themselves without a place to recover peacefully and safely.
I felt firsthand about four decades ago the intense desire to get my life back on track after a ride with this disease. And I see today an acute lack of supportive living environments to help make that happen for women.
That’s why I started Lorraine’s House, a non-profit group of four sober local women’s homes in Johnson County. There are not as many transitional housing beds for women as there are for men in the metro area.
Many women who leave treatment facilities have no choice but to return home with abusive spouses, unsupportive family members, or where drug and alcohol use is ongoing. Others end up homeless, sleeping in mess-filled shelters or in their cars.
Trauma continues and often follows relapse.
Lorraine’s House offers women in the early stages of sobriety warm beds in a clean, welcoming, well-run environment. Lorraine was my late sister-in-law who was a friendly, non-judgmental rock for me during my early stages of sobriety. Lorraine’s House seeks to emulate her namesake by fostering an environment of warmth, stability and respect. The residents agree to maintain sobriety and offer each other support as they live together as a community. They are required to work and pay a symbolic weekly wage, which helps them regain their dignity.
As a licensed addiction specialist, I work with a resident of each home who serves as a manager and counselor for the seven or eight women in her home. I train the manager to enforce the rules against abusive language and behavior, while conducting regular 12-step meetings. The board and I have created programs that promote health and wellness, financial stability, and better communication among residents.
The Kansas City area lacks such facilities, largely due to a lack of awareness and funding. Lorraine’s House has expanded from one house to four since early 2016 and has had a constant waiting list of women coming off treatment ever since. We are hoping to open a new facility in the coming months and are confident that this one will also fill up quickly.
To fully understand the stability, opportunity, camaraderie and warmth that make Lorraine’s House a successful home base for women in early recovery, I invite you to visit our website at lorraineshouse.org.
Lucy Brown is an addiction specialist and executive director of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Lorraine’s House.