Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Group Interventions with Low-Income African American Women Recovering from Chemical Dependency

Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Group Interventions with Low-Income African American Women Recovering from Chemical Dependency

Article excerpt

Addiction to drugs affects women from diverse cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. These women can experience serious consequences as a result of substance abuse, with treatment complicated by physiological, psychological, and social concerns. Female cocaine and heroin users appear to develop a dependency to substances much sooner than their male counterparts (Goldberg, 1995). Women also are more likely than men to suffer greater negative consequences, in part, because of their physical reaction to chemical use and addiction and greater stigmatization and negative social reactions (Manhal-Baugus, 1998).

Women use most of the amphetamines and antidepressants prescribed in the United States (Davis, 1990; United Nations International Drug Control Programme, 1997) and are more likely to use prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons (Blumenthal, 1998). In addition, more than two-thirds of AIDS cases that occurred among women were drug-related. Effects of drug dependency on low-income women from ethnic minority groups can be devastating, because chemical dependency is frequently an ineffective attempt to cope with oppressive conditions in their lives. Once dependency develops, these women suffer even greater discrimination (for example, economically, socially, and psychologically; Washington, 2000). With increasing numbers of women of childbearing age becoming addicted to cocaine, the cost to women's health and productivity can be substantial.

Although many approaches to the treatment of substance abuse exist, group work is particularly promising because it can integrate different treatment strategies to achieve social support, skill development, and role change (Manhal-Baugus, 1998; Van Den Bergh, 1991). In particular, group work can establish a context in which participants learn new coping skills using didactic techniques, role modeling, and information sharing. Group work may be especially relevant to women who cope with addiction, because it can decrease isolation and increase support by fostering interaction, affiliation, and social involvement among group members (Manhal-Baugus). It can help motivate participants to acquire skills needed to resolve personal and family issues that can undermine recovery.

Recovery-focused group work must be flexible and robust enough to help participants negotiate discrete phases of recovery to confront and resolve social and legal issues, secure roles and resources that increase their functioning, prevent relapses, and facilitate their economic independence. Long-term substance abuse gradually disempowers women and induces learned helplessness that makes those who struggle with recovery decide that they cannot be successful in their efforts to eliminate substances from their lives. Group work can be used to empower women by increasing their general and specific self-efficacy in life domains (that is, parenting, self-care, vocational development, and employment) in which successful outcomes are particularly important to the achievement of substance-free lifestyles.

Although group work appears to be an important approach to the facilitation of recovery, it may not be apparent which group intervention activities actually contribute to recovery. Practitioners need to examine practices or intervention activities that can produce important recovery outcomes and understand types of group work that participants find useful and supportive in recovery. Thus, practitioners involved in recovery-focused group work may find the discussion of effective recovery-focused interventions relevant to their work. Although all interventions may not be relevant to a particular group, treating activities as modules can allow their inclusion or exclusion as practitioners assess contributions that these activities can make to their work. By combining these modules into group work models that address different phases of recovery, various needs of group members, and diverse social issues, interventions can be effectively customized to address particular problems with substance abuse. …

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