Project outcomes

~ Developed an online survey to help guide the development of the resources, we received 45 responses across those 2 weeks of the survey running.

~Co-develop resources by Women for Women in multiple formats for online and print use.

~ We developed 13 Substance information cards available in digital and physical copies.

~ We developed a 68 page educational and activity booklet covering topics that Women and People identified as issues and areas in their life most important in regards to substance use.

~ Using our secure chatroom, run by trained peers from Hi-Ground, QuiVAA and QuIHN staff – we undertook collaborative research and feedback with specific women’s groups to help inform the resource content. This ensured relevant communities contribute to and have voice in the resource development process. We ran 18 client feedback chatroom sessions across August to September every Monday and Thursday.

~ Facilitated E-Support group sessions over a 6 week period across November and December 2021 with content based around the resource topics and led by Hi-Ground female peers and QuIHN staff within the harm reduction and therapeutic counseling teams.

About the booklet

This resource has been developed for women and people who currently use substances. The role of Hi-Ground is to provide factual, relevant and practical information to assist people in making informed choices about drug use; to promote harm reduction, wellbeing, and safer consumption. Hi-Ground acknowledges that people use drugs. Therefore, they need access to resources and education to minimise harm, in line with: Queensland Women’s Health Strategy. Australia’s Preventive Health Strategy & National Drug Strategy.
The booklet includes topics such as drug use, sexual assault, domestic violence, and identity-based discrimination and harassment.

We acknowledge that this content may be difficult to consume and we encourage readers to care for their safety and well-being. These sections are about promoting a voice and platform for survivors and through their story help inspire and educate others in a similar situation. These sections of the booklet are in line with: Queensland’s framework to address sexual violence and domestic violence according to the Prevent.Support.Believe publication and the Domestic and family violence prevention strategy 2016-2026.

Hi-Ground acknowledges that there are more than two genders. According to our survey of the 45 ‘women’ who participated 47.8% identified that they were a part of the LGBTIQAP+ community. Therefor the term ‘women’ in the context of this booklet is indicative of sexual organs, rather than gender identity. We wish to be inclusive of our LGBTIQAP+ communities and the many diverse identities and intersectionality’s people can experience.

Mental Health and Drug Use

According to our survey, 84% of participants said they have experienced mental health concerns in connection to using substances.

Similarly, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found that people with mental health conditions or high psychological distress were twice as likely to smoke daily compared to people without mental health conditions and low psychological distress. AIHW also found that people with mental health conditions were more likely to drink at risky levels than those without mental health conditions (for lifetime risky drinking the results were 21% compared to 17.1%, and for single occasion risky drinking at least monthly the results were 31% compared to 25%). They also found that people with mental health conditions were 1.7 times more likely to have used any illicit drug, and 2.1 times as likely to use pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes (AIHW, 2021).

The link between substance use and mental health is pretty complex and different for every person. So, there is no one size fits all approach to managing our substance use and wellbeing. But it can be comforting to know that others have gone through (and are currently going through) similar challenges to us. We’re all learning in the process. Our booklet includes a collection of ideas, strategies, and learnings that other people have found useful in managing their substance use and mental health.

The Research

There is little funding dedicated to researching illicit drugs and drug use. When this
research is done there is a focus on males, disregarding the various differences in the effect of drugs in terms of physiological and social implications for males and females. It is important that more research about drugs, drug use, and people who use drugs be more widely gendered.

Another important note about the research in this section. All the research we found referenced gender and sex binaries – women and men, females and males. They have also associated specific sexes with certain genders – females and women, males and men. This is an issue for nearly all areas of research. We recognise that these binaries are damaging and are not a reflection of the complexities of identity.

Why do Women use?

The research shows some interesting trends about the social backgrounds of women who use drugs. These trends extend on the understanding that some people use drugs for social, economic and emotional reasons.
There is little research that investigates why people use drugs generally, with most explanations coming from a base of stigma and discrimination. However, there is some research about the social background of
women who use drugs which sheds some light on why some women use. Women who use drugs are more likely than men to:
· Hold most of the responsibility in their homes. This is called over-responsibility.
· Report a traumatic event or stressors as their reason for using.
· Have families, including partners and spouses, where one or more members use drugs.
· Identify relationships problems as causing them to use.
· Be prescribed psychotropic drugs by a doctor.
· Use with other people present, all or mostly other women.
Domestic violence is endemic in Australia. Research from the United States shows a clear link between women who use drugs and experiences of intimate partner violence. They found that, amongst women who were receiving treatment, 57% had experienced violence from their partner. For women in the study who did not use drugs, this prevalence rate was 16%.

Pregnant and Parenting People who use drugs.

Drug use DOES NOT equal parental unfitness.

Being a pregnant person, a mother or caregiver is hard. When you add stigma and discrimination to the mix, it becomes even more difficult. Stigma has been shown to create more stress, delay seeking help, reinforce differences and can lead to people leaving support services and treatment. Things need to change in regards to how we treat pregnant people, pregnant women, mothers and caregivers who use drugs. There are many misconceptions about the effects of drug use during pregnancy and parenting, a lot of them are created out of fear rather than evidence. However, stigma associated with substance use can produce some of the most harmful effects for parents, mothers and babies. There are many factors that determine someone’s ability to be a parent, and it is not one size fits all. Environmental, physical, cultural and mental factors are just a few. Substance use (legal and illicit) is only one determinate, but is often used as the primary and sole focus. Substance use is a wide spectrum with effects from benign to very serious, depending on the context.

Stigma & Language

Our survey showed that many people have experiences of discrimination or stigma because of
their drug use, with majority coming from their own family or friends. This then followed from the wider community, the police and healthcare services.

It can be really hard to talk about substance use as it’s often viewed through a “moral” lens. This can lead to stigma, as well as the subject being swept under the rug. Frequently, family members and friends don’t understand the nature of substance use. Many people are then left feeling guilty, or helpless. Drug dependency is still significantly less talked about and typically remains a secret, just as mental illness was formerly a taboo topic.

Education leads to understanding and helps to reduce stigma. Talk to your loved ones about the reality of addiction with some support (counsellor, treatment team), resources and tools. Try to dismiss the negative narrative portrayed by social media, news and naysayers. Your addiction does not define you!