Aims: Although treatment barriers are different for men and women, research is dominated by males' and practitioners' perspectives rather than women's voices. The purpose of this study in Belgium was to identify and obtain a better understanding of the barriers and facilitators for seeking treatment as experienced by substance (ab)using women themselves.
Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with 60 female substance users who utilise(d) outpatient and/or residential treatment services. A content analysis was performed on women's personal accounts of previous treatment experiences as well as their experiences with services along the continuum of care, resulting in practical implications for the organisation of services.
Results: Female substance users experience various overlapping - and at times competing - barriers and facilitators when seeking treatment and utilising services. For most women, the threat of losing custody of their children is an essential barrier to treatment, whereas for a significant part of the participants it serves as a motivation to seek help. Also, women report social stigma in private as well as professional contexts as a barrier to treatment. Women further ask for a holistic approach to treatment, which stimulates the healing process of body, mind and spirit, and emphasise the importance of feeling safe in treatment. Participants suggested several changes that could encourage treatment utilisation.
Conclusion: Our findings demonstrate the need for a gender-sensitive approach within alcohol and drug services that meets the needs of female substance users, as well as gender-sensitivity within prevention and awareness-raising campaigns, reducing the stigma and facilitating knowledge and awareness among women and society.