PODCAST: Looking at intersections of class, race, and gender in substance abuse

When it comes to issues of substance abuse and addiction, many recovery models have been criticized as being geared towards men or said not to take into account the realities of women’s lives and experiences. Issues like sexual and physical abuse tend to factor heavily into the histories of women dealing with substance abuse. Beyond that, stereotypes around race, gender and class have impacted the way we think about addiction and treat those who are dealing with substance abuse issues.

In this episode, Meghan Murphy speaks with Laura Schmidt, a Professor of Health Policy in the School of Medicine at the University of California in San FranciscoShe is the author of dozens of articles on the intersections of gender, race, poverty and addiction.

Listen to that interview below.



Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • TotallyUnsexy

    That was an interesting discussion. I’ve read a lot about alcohol addiction online, somehow the topic of sexual assault never comes up.

    I should point out that alcoholics anonymous doesn’t really work for anyone, not even the men. Attacking yourself by calling yourself an out-of-control alcoholic over and over prevents you from actually trying to fight the addiction. I imagine its worse for women because they’ve been told to hate themselves all their life.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I’ve never been through AA, so I can’t speak to that personally, that said, I have a similar impression as you. I did go to AlAnon a couple of times (re: a partner who was an addict) and hated it. It all feels a bit like a religion to me. I know some people who have found success with the program, and that’s great for them, but I’m just not exactly sure how giving up all power over your life to a ‘higher power’ is all that useful, particularly if you aren’t addressing the background issues that led to the addiction in the first place AND particularly for women who’ve been disempowered their whole lives. It seems that addiction and substance abuse often go hand in hand with trauma and abuse (especially for women, as Schmidt discusses) — it doesn’t seem like AA deals with all of that stuff, instead treating addiction as a kind of ‘disease’ you have for life?

      Again, I’m not an addict so I don’t want to say what should or does work best for others, but I do know quite a bit about addiction and have been close with many who are dealing with or have dealt with substance abuse issues.

      Have you ever read Gabor Mate’s book on addiction? I found it SUPER interesting.

      • TotallyUnsexy

        I have not read that particular book, but I will add it to my reading list. Thanks!

    • AA isn’t about attacking yourself for being an out of control drunk. it’s a peer-support program that helps people who can’t stop drinking on their own. it isn’t for everyone, but it’s worked for lots of people who had been in the grip of the “higher power” of alcohol. even radical feminist athiests. through AA alcoholics can learn that they are worthy and capable, they don’t have to drink, and they can become engaged and responsible. I was pretty suspicious of it for a really long time, but i know now that it is one approach to recovery that can be really effective. it ain’t easy and people are whacky, but also we need each other, and can (and do) make something together much greater than the sum of its parts.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Thanks for sharing your experiences! I really appreciate it. As I said, I know a lot of people who’ve been through AA and, actually, the vast majority of those who I know who have struggled with addiction and gotten sober and done so via AA. I didn’t intend to dismiss that…

        I’ve also heard lots of criticisms of the program from women, but that doesn’t mean it is bad or doesn’t help many, many people. (I know you weren’t responding directly to me/my comment — I just wanted to add that…)

        Again, thanks for sharing your perspective and experience here 🙂

  • marv

    My dear brother died of alcohol dependency over a decade ago. I believe patriarchy and capitalism caused his reliance on liquor. He had intense low self-esteem for failing to conform to masculinity, the patriarchal expectations society placed upon him: having a mate, children and individual financial security. He was a poor lonely farmer. These social forces drove him to drink himself to death.

    I agree that male dominance and capitalism lead many women to narcotics over-use too. Racism and colonization are also major factors for First Peoples and people of colour. Moreover, I suspect all of these influences shape mental illness as well in conjunction with biological triggers.