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

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Examine how systems of oppression and inequality can be factors in the development of addiction.

  4. Explore the relationships between gender ideology, socialization, and addiction.

  5. 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: 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?”

Recovery 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 Wrap-Up



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