Teaching Points: “Women and Addiction: A Feminist Perspective”

Editor’s Note: In the third installment in Points’ back-to-school celebration of teaching, Sarah Carnahan, candidate for an MSW and a PhD at Ohio State University, discusses the class “Women and Addiction: A Feminist Perspective.”  The syllabus is below; her discussion of the issues arising from the class will appear tomorrow. Carnahan’s work focuses on the intersections of transnational feminist theory, critical trauma theory, and feminist narrative theory in the post-9/11 conflict narratives of women from the U.S., the Middle East, and the Middle Eastern diaspora. 

Contributor’s Note: The OSU class “Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 326 : Women and Addiction” examines the experiences, issues, representations, and obstacles of addicted women in society, policy, and culture.  Though it is not a clinical course, the department does try to have instructors with some clinical knowledge teach it. The bulk of this syllabus is actually the result of a lot of hard work by Victoria Genetin, the instructor who taught this course prior to me, and who trained me to teach it. While I tweaked some of the assignments and changed a few readings, Victoria deserves the credit for the vast majority of this syllabus, and I consider myself very lucky to have her as a resource and mentor as I am beginning to teach Women and Addiction.

Women and Addiction: A Feminist Perspective
Course Description

Social Construction-- and Destruction

This course offers a multicultural feminist perspective on women and addiction.  Using an interdisciplinary approach, students will explore addiction within the contexts of social construction, popular culture, mental health, and public policy. Discussion topics explore the socially constructed meanings of addiction, gender, power, and privilege.  Particular attention will be given to the various ways these social constructions can create cultural beliefs about addictions.  Careful attention is paid to the ways in which popular culture shapes cultural beliefs and knowledge about women and addictions and how those beliefs impact public policy and even the recovery process.  Students will engage in an interactive approach to learning about women and addiction.  Through lectures, class discussions, readings, popular culture analyses, blogging/journaling, group work, and in-class activities, students will gain a better perspective on gender, intersectionality, and addiction.

Learning Objectives:

  • Acquire an understanding of how issues of addiction might be viewed within an intersectional feminist framework, and how such perspective relies on and departs from traditional addiction theories.
  • Consider how addiction can operate as a tool of social control based on the social construction of difference, i.e. race, sex, class, and sexual orientation.
  • Examine how systems of oppression and inequality can be factors in the development of addiction.
  • Explore the relationships between gender ideology, socialization, and addiction.
  • Challenge dominant beliefs about addiction within the contexts of intersectional identities and oppressions, motherhood, and reproduction.

Because this is a women’s studies course, all assignments are expected to reflect an understanding of feminist scholarship. This does not mean that you are expected to be or become a feminist, but it does mean that you will be expected to demonstrate the ability to apply feminist theories and critical methods in your work. We will practice looking through a feminist lens throughout the quarter in our discussions.

Introduction to Feminist Thought
June 21: Welcome and Introduction

June 23
Weiss, “’I’m not a feminist, but . . . ‘: Popular Myths about Feminism”
Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins”
Frye, “Oppression”

Feminist Approaches to Addiction
June 28
Kasl, “Defining Addiction: “Patterns of Chemical and Psychological Addictions”
—-.   “Is Addiction Inevitable?  Patriarchy, Hierarchy, & Capitalism”

June 30
Northrup, “The Patriarchal Myth and Addictive System”
Downing, “Sex Role Setups and Alcoholism”

Gender, Power, and Addiction
July 5
Kandall, “Women and Addiction: A Historical Perspective”
Gmelch, “Women, Drinking, and Drugs”
Fassel & Shaef, “A Feminist Perspective on Work Addiction”

July 7
Covington, “Women and Addiction: A Trauma-Informed Approach”
Johnson, “Concurrent Drug and Alcohol Dependency and Mental Health Problems Among Incarcerated Women”

Class, Gender, and Addiction
July 12
Peterman et al, “Relationship Between Past Food Deprivation and Current Dietary Practices”
Grant, “Rural Women’s Stories of Recovery from Addiction”

Addiction in the Non-Heterosexual Community
July 14
Washington, “Burning Love: Big Tobacco Takes Aim at LGBT Youths”
Staddon, “Labeling Out: The Personal Account of an Ex-Alcoholic Lesbian Feminist”
McCabe, “The Relationship Between Discrimination and Substance Use Disorders Among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Adults in the U.S.”

July 19: Group Presentations Due Today

Women and Sex Addiction
July 21
Wilson Shaef, Sexual Addiction,in Escape from Intimacy: The Pseudo-Relationship of Addictions
Ferree, “Females and Sex Addiction”
Knapp, “Sex,” in Drinking: A Love Story

Addiction & Reproduction
July 26
Campbell, “Introduction: Drug Policy, Social Reproduction, and Social Justice”
Gallagher, “Collective Bad Faith: ‘Protecting the Fetus’”
Daniels, “Fathers, Mothers, & Fetal Harm: Rethinking Gender Difference & Reproductive Responsibility”

July 28
Young, “Punishment, Treatment, and Empowerment…”
Roberts, “Punishing Drug Addicts Who Have Babies,” in Abortion Wars: A Half-Century of Struggle

Body Image, Disordered Eating, Food Addiction
August 2
Definitions and descriptions of each Eating Disorder at this link:          http://www.dsm5.org/ProposedRevisions/Page/EatingDisorders.aspx
Maine, “Chapter One” in Effective Clinical Practice in the Treatment of Eating Disorders: The Heart of the Matter
Liu, excerpts from Gaining: The Truth about Life after Eating Disorders

August 4
Hornbacher, excerpts from Wasted
Hornbacher, guest blog post at:

August 9
Rabin, “Can You Be Addicted to Foods?”

August 11
Morell, “Radicalizing Recovery: Addiction, Spirituality, and Politics”
Kurtz, “Recovery, the 12-Step Movement, and Politics”
Berenson, “Powerlessness – Liberating or Enslaving?”

August 16
Chodron, “How We Get Hooked, How We Get Unhooked”
hooks, “Growing Away from Addiction”

August 18

4 thoughts on “Teaching Points: “Women and Addiction: A Feminist Perspective””

  1. I analyzed admissions data over many years. One consistent finding was that the length of time between first use of drug and first admission to treatment varied consistently by race and sex. Women had longer times than men, and racially, blacks, then Hispanics, had longer times than whites, for the illegal “heavy” drugs, like heroin and cocaine.This, coupled with many interviews of active addicts in many settings, led me to believe that this was a result of the ability to survive in the drug culture. White males are at a disadvantage on the streets, and females have more resources available to them to maintain their addictions. I wonder how my observations fit with the views in this course.

    • I think an important thing to consider here is that certain social identities afford certain social privileges. Race, gender, and class cannot be separated, and the more marginalized one is, the more likely it is that she will have trouble even accessing services. Additionally, one’s social standing can have an impact on acceptance into treatment programs and the likelihood that one will have resources and support necessary to enter addiction treatment.

  2. I should have stipulated that publicly funded drug treatment services were uniformly accessible by race or sex during the time, as witnessed by the fact that addicts who were traditionally marginalized were admitted within the same time periods after requesting treatment as were others. They simply did not seek treatment as early as others. The best explanation I could come up with is that they didn’t feel the same need to enter treatment because their coping skills as street addicts were better. This is supported by observations on the street, where, for instance, street prices of heroin and cocaine were lower for minorities, and women were far more often given drugs free than were men, often having boyfriends that supported their habits, or turning tricks, or both. Hence, Blacks, Hispanics, and females were less likely to enter treatment earlier than were whites and males. This is the reverse of most societal boundary issues. If others have data to support other conclusions i would be very interested to see them.

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