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Awareness Equals Support

Pape said support groups have been instrumental in helping addicted women acknowledge and cope with their problems.

"There is more dialogue, more intervention and more education available now," said Pape. "Because awareness of the problem has increased, the medical and wellness communities are more alert to the warning signs. This leads to better assessment, diagnosis and referral to the appropriate form of treatment."

The Employment Connection

Pape said the wellness community also has become aware of the connection between employment and women who are substance abusers, and has identified three key factors: 1. The multiple roles women maintain in society (employee, parent, spouse and homemaker). It is now believed that multiple roles may actually benefit women, because heavier drinking has been associated with role deprivation and role losses. 2. The higher accessibility of alcohol and drugs in the workplace. 3. Gender composition of the workplace: women in male-dominated jobs tend to drink more.

Pape said the wellness community and medical experts should continue to develop more gender-specific assessment and treatment models.

Professional Responsibility

"We have a professional responsibility to address issues we know are underlying factors for substance abuse among women," she said. "We should be at the forefront of efforts to change traditional perceptions about the roles and responsibilities of women and men."

Pape said policies that encourage the sharing of family responsibilities, such as paid family leave and flexible and alternative work schedules, are steps toward positive change.

"We canÍt forget that womenÍs symptoms are often rooted in the extreme powerlessness and poverty they experience, as well as a general lack of control over their lives, she noted. "These conditions frequently have political roots, which we have the power to change."

New Opportunities

Pape said the new millennium presents new opportunities to help women overcome substance abuse. Increased awareness of the problem coupled with technological advances can lead the way, she said.

Pape said many of the screening and assessment tools in current use were developed for and tested on the male population; addressing gender differences with respect to thresholds, symptoms and the settings in which assessment or intervention occurs will signify a positive leap into the 21st century, she added.

"Improving methods for the identification, screening and assessment of substance abuse problems among women, particularly by primary care physicians, will be very beneficial," said Pape. "And we must change our systems rather than continuing to expect women to fit into systems that are flawed with respect to their needs."

Agents for Change

Pape said it also is important to examine the direct effects of alcohol and drugs on women, as well as the indirect effects in their roles as wives, children and parents.

"We need to find different strategies to change beliefs and attitudes, strategies such as mentoring, advocacy, support groups and social activism," Pape said. "Wellness professionals have put together these types of strategies in the past; we need them now more than ever."

Address: Pape & Associates, 618 S. West St., Wheaton, IL 60187; (630) 668-8710.

Source: Employee Assistance Management Letter

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