We report on an in-depth qualitative study of 28 active and former substance addicted women of low or marginal income on the core components of a harm reduction-based addiction recovery program. These women volunteered to be interviewed about their perceptions of their therapeutic needs in their transition from substance addiction to recovery.
Data were gathered about women’s experiences and essential needs in addiction recovery, what helped and what hindered their past efforts in recovery, and their views of what would constitute an effective woman-centred recovery program. The research was based upon the experience and knowledge of the women in interaction with their communities and with recovery programs. The study was informed by harm reduction practice principles that emphasize the importance of individual experience in knowledge construction, reduction of harm, low threshold access, and the development of a hierarchy of needs in regard to addiction recovery.
Three core needs were identified by study participants: normalization and structure, biopsychosocial-spiritual safety, and social connection. What hindered recovery efforts as identified by participants was an inner urban location, prescriptive recovery, invidious treatment, lack of safety, distress-derived distraction, problem-focused treatment, coercive elements of mutual support groups, and social marginalization. What helped included connection in counselling and therapy, multidisciplinary service provision, spirituality focus, opportunities for learning and work, and a safe and flexible structure. Core components of an effective recovery program identified by women themselves stand in contrast to the views of service providers and policymakers, particularly in regard to the need for a rural location for residential programs, low threshold access, multidisciplinary service provision of conventional and complementary modalities and therapies for integrated healing, long-term multi-phase recovery, and variety and choice of programming.
A key barrier to the addiction recovery of women is the present framework of addiction treatment, as well as current drug laws, policies and service delivery systems. The expectation of women is that harm reduction-based recovery services will facilitate safe, supportive transitioning from the point of the decision to access services, through independent living with community integration.