Over half of the individuals in treatment for methamphetamine and other stimulants are women. Recent research shows that women mainly use methamphetamine and other stimulants to lose weight and boost energy, despite knowing that the drugs can cause organ damage, medical issues, impaired decision-making and broken familial relationships. However, most women do not know that much of the weight lost is from dehydration and loss of muscle, bone mass and other vital tissues. As a result, when women rapidly gain weight during recovery or mental health treatment due to their bodies healing, physical inactivity, poor nutrition and/or as side effects of prescribed medications, the excess gain often leads women to feelings of hopelessness and inability to control their weight. These feelings can negatively affect their mental health and lead to poor choices, such as skipping prescriptions because of the possible side effects of weight gain, or even returning to drug use to lose the weight again.

Extension developed Healthy Steps to Freedom in 2007 to help women in substance abuse treatment, especially those with low energy, eating issues and weight concerns. The curriculum promotes nutrition, physical activity and body acceptance as healthy approaches to addressing weight and energy concerns. Participants learn about essential nutrients, meal planning, food labels and portions, exercise and strength activities, calcium intake, the effects of negative body image, and disordered eating. Over 2,400 adults and 1,000 youth have been reached, including 450 adults and 261 youth in 2017. The 10-week program is active in prisons and substance abuse recovery centers in Washoe and Clark Counties. 

Since 2009, the program, with the Center for the Application of Substance Abuse Technologies, also gave substance abuse and mental health care providers continuing education credits and important knowledge and resources to present the program at their treatment facilities in multiple states.

After the program, many participants implemented their newly learned healthy lifestyle behaviors at home. For women with children, making these positive changes at home also helped improve their children’s health.

Partners included the University of Nevada, Reno Center for the Application of Substance Abuse Technologies; Choices Group, Inc.; Clark County Juvenile Detention Center; Nevada Department of Corrections (Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Facility and Jean Conservation Camp); University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and WestCare Nevada.


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Learn more about the program's team

Nichol Heleman
Program Leader & Contact
Anne R. Lindsay
Program Leader & Contact