The Magazine for Addiction Professionals
Wednesday, 31 May 2006 16:00
There is a long, paradox-filled history of addiction among American women. An ever-increasing menu of psychoactive drugs has been aggressively promoted to women amidst promises that these products could deliver physical sedation and emotional anesthesia, and help one attain and/or maintain an otherwise unachievable standard of beauty. At the same time, women who become addicted to these very drugs have faced intense shame and stigma. Women in recovery have charted pathways between these twin insults by exposing the enticements of the institutional drug peddlers and bravely stepping forward to challenge the cultural caricature of addicted women. This article highlights some of the themes within this history and their clinical implications for addiction professionals.
A history of promotion
The alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical (ATP) industries have manufactured psychoactive substances specifically for women for more than two centuries, from opium-, cocaine- and alcohol-laced products for “female problems” (e.g., Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound) and bottles emblazed with the words “Woman’s Friend” to today’s feminized tobacco brands (Virginia Slims, Eve, Max, Satin, Capri and Misty), alcohol products (light beer, wine coolers, pre-packaged cocktails, and sweet drinks) and mood-altering prescription drugs. These industries have mastered the use of psychological research in advertising design. They use enticing psychological symbols to encourage initial drug use and then relied on pharmacology (tolerance and withdrawal) and social reinforcement to increase and sustain consumption over time.