A chicken and egg scenario: Acknowledging women’s history in drug and alcohol service provision

First published: 13 March 2019 | Last updated: 28 March 2019


Ms Sarah Fox

PhD Candidate in Social Work and Social Care

I am a final year SSA funded PhD candidate based at Manchester Metropolitan University. My research is exploring women’s experiences of substance use, domestic abuse and support. Using qualitative research, specifically IPA, I am interested in exploring how women navigate help and support when affected by co-occurring substance use and domestic abuse. I would like to continue researching in women’s addiction following my PhD.

I hold an MSc in Drug and Alcohol Studies from The University of Glasgow, a MSc in Applied Social Research from Trinity College Dublin and a B.A (Hons) in Humanities from Dublin City University. I have a background working as a researcher for a homeless organisation in Dublin and as a support worker in a childrens charity, a homeless organisation and a domestic abuse service. I am a trustee and active volunteer for a local Manchester women’s food and clothes bank.

Research has shown that there is a definite relationship between problematic substance use and past experiences of childhood adversity, domestic and sexual violence and other traumatic experiences. This is why a trauma informed approach to drug and alcohol support is advocated, particularly for women. However, despite this recommendation, drug and alcohol services tend be siloed in their provision of support. For example, many women who enter drug and/or alcohol treatment have experienced domestic and/or sexual abuse, and for many of these women, their experiences of abuse have impacted their use of substances. However, trauma informed support around these experiences, is often limited. Similarly, within domestic abuse services, women who present with co-occurring substance use are often denied refuge support because staff are not equipped to support substance use. Support for both substance use and domestic abuse is therefore siloed.  Due to this identified gap in service provision, this research sought to explore the experiences of help-seeking and support among twelve women who have experienced co-occurring substance use and domestic abuse. A key finding of this research found that although women prioritise substance use support, they are also presenting with complex and multi-faceted histories of rape, childhood physical and sexual abuse and other childhood adversities, domestic and sexual violence, prostitution and incarceration. However, these experiences are not being explored in support despite one participant highlighting the benefit of naming and vocalising her experiences out loud. As such, this presentation will highlight these experiences in more detail. By using the women’s own words, this presentation will show that although women access support for substance use, they carry a history of experiences that have impacted their use and this history needs to be named and supported by practitioners in treatment. Overall, this presentation aims to create a discussion on the importance of a trauma informed approach to drug and alcohol support.



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Sarah Fox