Female-Focused Approaches Are Big Draw for Minn. Women Seeking Help With Substance Abuse

As more women in Minnesota seek out help for addiction, serv­ice providers are stepping up to help reduce barriers to treatment.


Star Tribune

By Kelly Smith

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- Across the Twin Cities, nonprofits are boosting substance abuse treatment services specifically for women to meet a growing demand for help.

In south Minneapolis, the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge bought a new 65,000-square-foot building to expand its programs and services for women. In Wayzata, the nonprofit the Re­treat op­ened a new center for women last year as part of a $10 million project, designed for women with more gathering spaces for the community.

And across the state, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is launching a virtual services program this year to reach more people, especially women who face special barriers to treatment.

We know there are as many female alcoholics as there are males, and yet there are twice as many beds in this country for men as there are for women,” said Andrea Bru­ner, women’s program coordinator at the Retreat in Wayzata.

“So there are some difficulties for women in accessing treatment, and I think that this often results from their role in the family, especially if they’re moms, and I think it also has to do with the kind of social stigma we continue to struggle with.”

Experts say women have often waited longer to get mental health treatment since they are usually the primary caregivers in a family and also face a sometimes harsher stigma when seeking help.

“Drinking has become normalized for women … of all ages,” Bruner said. “For women, there’s a certain special shame in being an alcoholic woman.”

The wine culture that pops up in popular TV shows and merchandise comes at a time when alcohol abuse is on the rise among women. Alcohol-related deaths among women increased 85% from 1999 to 2017, with more than 18,000 deaths in 2017, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, as reported in the New York Times. Meanwhile, the number of men who died from alcohol during that time rose 35%.

Tenth-grade girls are now as likely to drink as boys, according to the institute.

One challenge is that while women are physiologically less able to metabolize alcohol than men, many have little idea of how much wine is too much. Only 5 ounces of wine (slightly more than 1/2 cup) equals a shot of distilled spirits or 12 ounces of beer. Women are advised to have fewer than three drinks a day, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In Minnesota, more than 600 peo­ple died from excessive alcohol use in 2017, a number that’s risen over the last two decades, according to the state Department of Health. And while men are more like­ly to die from alcohol-related causes, nearly half of alcohol-related deaths among Minnesotans who are 65 years and old­er in 2016 were women.

But more women are now seeking out help for addiction. As they do, serv­ice providers need to help reduce barriers such as child care, said Lydia Burr, the clinical director of outpatient services at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in St. Paul. Burr said that she sees some women who struggle to either access or stay in residential treatment because they need to take care of their children.

That’s partly why the large nonprofit is starting virtual services this year with an outpatient program that will have video counseling and other services available from a person’s home computer, eliminating the need for someone, especially in a rural area, to travel to get help.

We’re doing our part to reduce stigma around seeking help,” Burr said. “There’s no shame in having a health condition.”

At the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, the nonprofit has seen a 77% increase in women seeking services in the last five years. In 2019, near­ly 1,000 women went through its pro­grams, an increase from a­bout 550 women in 2015.

As a result, the nonprofit, which has buildings from Duluth to Rochester, is adding its 12th building, purchasing for $4.5 million a building near Lake Street and Interstate 35W in south Minneapolis from another nonprofit, Tubman.

The building will be renovated this summer and reopened in 2021 with apartments for up to 74 women, education rooms, a fitness area and salon, among other services. It will more than double the current space the nonprofit operates for women, who can stay up to a year in its residential pro­grams.

“We’re responding to the need,” said Tim Walsh, vice president of long-term pro­grams at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.

Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge is also adding outpatient programs to all of its centers and developing sober homes.

In Wayzata, the Retreat also expanded the number of women it serves by add­ing 12 beds last year with its new National Center for Women’s Recovery, a 25,000-square-foot wing of its campus. The center has a total of 32 beds and women’s spaces -- from a chapel to fitness and yoga rooms.

Women typically stay at the Retreat -- which follows the Twelve Step recovery principles -- for 30 days, but more are choosing to stay longer, knowing that support may lead to long-term recovery, Bruner said.

“There is a beauty and dignity to this space that also supports the recovery experience,” Bruner said. “It reflects back to them their own worth and value.”

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