More women with alcohol problems are admitting their illness and looking for help, but experts in the treatment field believe there is not enough available to them, and that many programs are ill-suited to their needs.
Joseph Wright, information and referral director for the Washington Area Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WACADA), says the number of women seeking help is steadily increasing, and that 40 percent of those who use WACADA's services are women. This, he says, is because alcoholism is more open now, there is more information about it, and women are "not in the closet with this thing anymore.
"The help for women is insufficient . . . for example, this city has 20 detoxification beds for women and 75 for men . . . there's not enough help now and there's going to be a real crisis in the future."
WACADA runs a hotline for people with alcohol and other drug problems (783-1300). A veteran operator, Velma Watkins, say most of the callers are women with alcohol problems.
"A lot of the women who call just want someone to cry to when they're in this situation . . . so many of the black women have a lot more anger and a lot less self-esteem than women from other groups, and almost all of them fell unappreciated or unneeded by those around them."
While greater numbers of women are beginning to seek help, many young people do not. Though schools and groups like Alcoholics Anonymous offer assistance, many youths, like their elders, do not believe heavy drinking is a serious problem.
Dr. Dorothy Camera, Director of the alcoholism treatment program for women at the O'Malley Center of St. Elizabeths Hospital, believes more treatment programs designed specifically for women are necessary. She says she is "very disturbed" because the District's budgetary problems have forced a combination of the women's program with the psychiatric unit at the hospital.
"This is not appropriate," Camera said. "The alcoholic woman cannot relate to the psychotic one, and many of them (alcoholics), will not seek treatment because of this.
"The combination of these programs is a good example of how society keeps the woman alcoholic invisible, and refuses to acknowledge that her problem exists. And the available treatment is set up on a male model, assuming that the client will be a man. It's difficult for women to benefit from this.
"The mental health people say that they have other plans for a women's program here, but I'm doubtful."
Mental health administrator Evelyn Ireland said the two programs were placed in the same area of St. E's because "a free-standing detox center for women is not economically sound." She added that although the women's alcoholism and psychiatric programs are now in different parts of the same ward, they have not been combined.
"It was necessary to do some moving around in the facility which has the detox as well as the psychiatric programs," Ireland said, "and the detox program was moved from one part of the center to another. We did this a while ago . . . we just don't have the staff to keep them entirely separate, although those patients who come in for detoxification are well known to the staff. We know the population . . . they may need detox one day and psychiatric help the next."