Women’s History Month: Female Figures Who Have Shaped Addiction Recovery

Image by Dave Tracy

If someone asked you which gender is more prone to substance abuse, how would you respond?

Many people believe men are more likely to struggle with substance use disorders. Historically, men were more prone to addiction as substance use wasn’t socially acceptable for women but as social expectations change, the gender gap is closing.

Women are becoming increasingly likely to abuse alcohol, are just as likely as men to use stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine, and are more likely than men to abuse prescription opioids.

In the past, the subject of recovery for women has been overlooked. But thanks to brave female figures who have been willing to speak out and demand change, steps have been made to better understand and treat substance use disorders in women.

March is Women’s History Month and we are proud to share the message of a few prominent women in the history of recovery.

Marty Mann – One of the First Female Members of AA

In a time when drug and alcohol dependency was taboo, Marty Mann championed the idea that alcoholism is a disease, not a moral issue.

She firmly believed that alcoholism is genetic, treatable, and must be studied.

Marty Mann - Alcoholism is a Disease
Image from NCADD.org

In 1939, at the age of 35, Mann attended her first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and was one of the first female members of AA.

After she became sober in 1940, Mann dedicated her life to reducing the stigma surrounding addiction.

Her life’s work includes many publications including a chapter in the Big Book of AA titled Women Suffer Too and a book, New Primer on Alcoholism.

In addition, she helped open the Yale School of Alcohol Studies which has since been transferred to Rutgers University.

Betty Ford – Former First Lady and Founder of Betty Ford Center

Because of her willingness to speak candidly on her struggle with addiction to opioids and alcohol, Betty Ford, the wife of former President Ford, spread awareness of addiction and encouraged other women with substance use disorders to seek treatment.

Betty Ford - Addiction Recovery
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In April 1978, the former first lady Betty Ford was admitted to the Long Beach Naval Hospital. Shortly thereafter, she made a public statement sharing that her stay was due to an addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol.

“This program is well known throughout the country and I am pleased to have the opportunity to attend it. I expect this treatment and fellowship to be a solution for my problems. I embrace it, not only for me, but all the many others who are here to participate.” – Betty Ford, Washington Post

As a public figure, Betty Ford was known to trailblaze social issues of importance to her. Along with being a leader in the feminist movement, Ford also spoke openly about her experience with breast cancer as well as her liberal viewpoints surrounding premarital sex and abortion.

Her willingness to discuss these issues earned her the admiration of many American women. Upon sharing her experience with addiction, it was this respect that encouraged others struggling with substance use disorders to seek treatment.

After her recovery, 1982, Ford opened an addiction treatment facility, now known as the Betty Ford Center, and published two books on the subject of addiction and recovery, leaving a legacy of support for women with addiction.

Jamie Lee Curtis

In the modern day, many celebrities are willing to openly discuss their experience with addiction. One of the most prominent female figures in recovery is actress, author, and philanthropist, Jamie Lee Curtis.

Curtis has been sober since 1999 and attributes her current happiness and success to her recovery.

Jamie Lee Curtis - Addiction Recovery
Image by Getty Images

After over ten years of opioid and alcohol addiction, Curtis made the decision to get sober when she read an article in Esquire magazine titled “Vicodin, My Vicodin”. This article, written by journalist Tom Chiarella, openly discussed Chiarella’s personal struggle with opioid addiction.

Because of the impact this writing had on Curtis’ life, she believes that by speaking openly about her addiction she will be able to bring hope to those who are going through similar struggles.

Curtis, now 20 years sober, has become a spokesperson for sobriety and is spreading the message that recovery is possible.

Along with giving many interviews on the subject, Curtis has also written published articles about opioid addiction, and served on the board of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

“Getting sober was the single bravest thing I’ve ever done and will ever do in my life. Not [running] a 5K—facing an addiction. Being courageous enough to acknowledge it privately with my family and friends. Working really hard at solidifying it, getting support around it and being healthy. And then talking about it publicly. That is the single greatest accomplishment of my life.” – Jamie Lee Curtis

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