Barriers to accessing addiction treatment for women at risk of homelessness

29 Mar 2022

When it comes to addiction treatment services, women face significant barriers in accessing care.

Treatment for women at risk of homelessness

Women comprise less than a third of clients in Australian addiction treatment services. Shame, stigma, and fear of legal and social repercussions have all been identified as major barriers for women seeking treatment. For women at risk of homelessness these barriers are only compounded.

Recent research conducted by Turning Point and published in Frontiers in Global Women’s Health found that system-related, socio-cultural, and emotional barriers contribute to women at risk of homelessness accessing AOD treatment.

Turning Point Deputy Clinical Director and Monash University Senior Research Fellow, Dr Shalini Arunogiri who led the study says accommodation stability was an immediate system-related barrier for women.

“Women told us that having no fixed address meant that women could not be waitlisted for a specific service and where someone had frequent changes of address, particularly if these were across catchments, eligibility for services was often jeopardised.”

“Chronic homelessness also impacted on women’s ability to attend different addiction treatment services, such as long-term residential rehabilitation,” said Dr Arunogiri.

Of the socio-cultural barriers, literacy levels, gender roles, and participants’ lifestyles all presented as obstacles for women seeking treatment.

“Some women reported that the language used by clinicians or service providers was sometimes difficult for them to understand, while others noted accessing information via digital platforms was limited due to the insecurity of homelessness and the costs associated with owing a smartphone," said Dr Arunogiri.

For women that had children or who were acting as carers for others there was limited suitability of specific programs, such as outpatient services which typically only operate during business hours, making access to treatment difficult. Women also reported that they would often prioritise the care of family over their own health and wellbeing.

“We found that many women felt that services disregarded their roles as mothers and carers and that they failed to understand the impact that this has on them accessing and maintaining engagement in treatment," said Dr Arunogiri.

Despite the identification of these barriers, the number of women accessing AOD treatment remains low, and overall, women are underrepresented in treatment.

Dr Arunogiri says that to improve outcomes for women at risk of homelessness accessing addiction treatment a person-centred approach to care is critical.

“We need to be engaging women in treatment services at every level, and seeking feedback on their interaction with services, so we can work better together to design programs that meet women’s needs.”

This study was supported by funding from the Victorian Women’s Trust - Jean McCaughey Social Justice Sub-fund awarded to Dr Shalini Arunogiri.