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More resources needed for women addicts

Recovery from addiction is a long, complicated process requiring many different types of services and treatment resources. Some people are able to eliminate the drug from their body, sometimes through a detoxification procedure in a hospital and follow up with outpatient and self help care. Others need much more substantial and structured resources to get through the first few years of what is now called the Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).

PAWS usually involves intensely uncomfortably feelings for one to two years, that make the recovering addict especially vulnerable to relapse. Without the drug of choice within their system, and a damaged central nervous system that is not producing sufficient quantities of relaxing neurotransmitters such as Dopamine and Serotonin, anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, agitation and difficulties with memory and concentration are all hallmarks of PAWS. As addicts use drugs to create a better feeling, and these feelings are at times intolerable, this is a set up for relapse.
A useful resource to address this process is the long term residential program. Typically available for 6 -12 months, this type of program can provide a safe living environment with self help and professional treatment resources to move the addict successfully through the first year of PAWS.

Massachusetts does not have nearly enough long term residential programs, especially for women. The state professional trade group, The Recovery Homes Collaborative only lists 38 houses in the state, most of them for men. Only three of the women’s houses provide any information on the web site.

Woman in early recovery typically emerge from a detoxification program, usually in a hospital and are then “stepped down” to a transitional program sometimes with a day program as follow up. At best, the day program may last for 2 to 4 weeks, just beginning the recovery process that requires comprehensive and concerted efforts for the first one to two years to be effective. Self help groups such as AA or NA can provide additional support but not everyone connects with this community when they begin recovery. Without sufficient recovery supports in place, the recovering addict is primed for relapse. She often returns to the same risky people, risky place and risky things she left when she headed for detox.

In an effort to obtain longer term treatment resources for their daughters, mothers and sisters, families in Massachusetts are resorting to a legal procedure known as Sec 35. In the past eight years, civil commitments made under this law grew by 67 percent, from 2,982 to 4,982.

Using the legal system to treat an illness does not make sense.