While many men and women do well in mixed-gender treatment settings, some people benefit more from treatment settings involving their own gender than from mixed-gender groups. Here, we look at how gender-specific treatment works and when it’s best to choose a gender-specific program.
For some people, gender-specific treatment can make an enormous difference in their recovery. Women-only and men-only addiction treatment programs address issues unique to gender and help individuals in treatment address a range of issues and problems in a safe and supportive environment.
Addiction, Recovery, and Gender:
Differences Between Men and Women
It’s said that women are from Venus and men are from Mars, and this holds true when it comes to substance abuse and addiction. Men and women experience substance abuse, addiction and recovery differently. This is due to genetic, biological, cultural, and environmental influences.
Around half of a person’s risk for developing an addiction is genetic, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.1 The sex of the person passing on certain genes has a surprising influence over your risk developing an addiction.
The Addiction Family Gene
If the genes that predispose you to addiction are from a family member of the same sex, they will have a stronger influence over whether you become addicted than if the genes come from a family member of the opposite sex. For example, if you are male and your father struggles with an addiction, you are at greater risk of developing an addiction than if your mother struggled with addiction.
It should be noted however, that any genetic link increases risk. Additionally, the relatives of a woman who is addicted to alcohol may have a higher risk for addiction than the relatives of a man who is addicted.
Men and women metabolize drugs and alcohol differently. For example, the enzyme dehydrogenase, which begins the process of metabolizing alcohol, is 50 percent higher in men, which is why alcohol stays in women’s blood longer. Alcohol is also less diluted in women than in men because of differing amounts of fat, muscle and water that occur in women’s and men’s bodies.
Don’t Forget About Hormones
Women’s substance abuse begins at a lower intensity than men’s, but women’s use escalates faster. Research published in the Journal of Neuroendocrinology suggests that these differences may be influenced by the sex hormones estradiol and progesterone.2 Fluctuations in levels of these hormones throughout the menstrual cycle may increase women’s cravings and negative emotions, which are important relapse triggers.
Environmental and Cultural Influences
Cultural and environmental factors play an important role in whether someone will abuse drugs or alcohol, which is the precursor to addiction. These factors include gender roles in the home during childhood and adolescence, along with attitudes toward women and men at home and in the community. In general, men model their drinking patterns after their fathers, and women pattern theirs after their mothers.
Addressing Patterns in Addiction
Environment has an influence on how and why men and women abuse drugs or alcohol. For example, women are more likely to drink alcohol to reduce stress and negative emotions, while men are more likely to drink to increase positive emotions. How and why individuals use alcohol or drugs has an important impact on the focus of their treatment plan and on how they recover.
For this reason, gender-specific treatment can benefit men and women by providing a program based on the research into mens’s and women’s substance abuse patterns and needs during recovery.
How Men and Women Recover
Research shows differences in how men and women recover from a substance use disorder. Women relapse under different circumstances than men do. For example, women are more likely to relapse with a romantic partner present, while men are more likely to relapse when they’re alone. Women, but not men, often report that interpersonal problems contributed to a relapse.
Because there are fewer distractions of the opposite sex in gender-specific treatment, clients who choose this type of rehab are able to better focus on their own recovery. People in gender-specific programs have more similar life experiences and can usually relate to one another better than in co-ed programs. Gender-specific rehab addresses issues unique to the gender they serve, such as shame in women and aggression in men, which improves the chances of successful recovery for the long-term.
How Gender-Specific Treatment Benefits Women
Relationships Help Healing
Women face a number of issues during treatment that men don’t, and they recover differently from men. Women are relationship-driven and find greater success in treatment when they feel a connection with others. Women-only treatment programs promote healthy relationships with other women. They create a sense of belonging and foster empowerment and self-reliance in a way that wouldn’t be possible with men in the mix.
Treatment Addresses Trauma
Women have different mental health concerns than men do, and a women’s-only program focuses on how mental health affects women in particular. According to an article published in the Psychiatric Clinics of North America, the majority of women in treatment have been the victim of sexual abuse, and incidents of post-traumatic stress disorder are particularly high among this population.3 Gender-specific treatment programs provide a safe and supportive environment where women can comfortably explore traumatic experiences and receive a high level of support from their peers.
Healthcare Designed for Women
Women who are pregnant or who have children also have different needs in treatment than men do. Women’s-only treatment addresses pre-natal and parenting issues, including pre-natal care and childcare, as part of a comprehensive recovery program. Residential treatment programs that house women and their children are becoming more common as research continues to shape best-practices for treating addiction in women.
An Environment of Understanding
For women who have feelings of powerlessness, low self-esteem or a lack of assertiveness, it can be difficult to compete in a co-ed environment, where men tend to be more assertive and even aggressive. Gender-specific treatment for women creates an environment where women feel heard and understood.
How Gender-Specific Treatment Benefits Men
Opportunity to Share Difficult Experiences
Men in recovery often have trouble expressing difficult emotions and sharing troubling experiences. They may be reluctant to open up about personal experiences when women are present, especially if they have experienced physical or sexual abuse.
Men with substance use disorders have more anger and power issues than women do, and they typically recover more easily in a gender-specific program that addresses these issues and where other men can relate. Men who have a history of physically, emotionally or sexually abusing women should always choose a gender-specific treatment program.
Male Approach to Problem Solving
While women generally prefer warmth and trust in a therapeutic relationship, men often prefer a more utilitarian and less personal approach to solving problems. Men-only treatment programs take this and other considerations into account.
How Gender-Specific Treatment Works
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration points out that since men and women experience addiction and recovery so differently, gender-specific treatment ensures women’s or men’s unique needs are met.3
Level of Care Determined
Gender-specific treatment can take place through an inpatient treatment center or an outpatient program. Inpatient programs involve living at a residential treatment facility while in rehab. Outpatient treatment involves living at home and attending treatment programming during the day or in the evenings.
Treatment is Individualized
Gender-specific treatment programs work the same way for men and women, but they may have different types of programming. All high quality treatment programs use cognitive-behavioral and other research-based therapies and interventions to address not just the addiction, but a wide range of personal problems as well.
A holistic approach to treatment offers the best outcomes, and this involves a variety of traditional and complementary therapies that help individuals change their mindset and develop healthier ways of thinking and behaving.
Skills Help Build Self-Confidence
During treatment, clients develop the essential skills they need to handle negative emotions, cravings and stress, which are potent relapse triggers. They work to develop healthy communication skills and repair damaged relationships.
Treatment helps individuals restore their lives on all fronts while improving their self-awareness, self-confidence and self-esteem.
A Note On Length of Treatment…
One of the most important predictors of successful treatment is its duration. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, treatment lasting less than 90 days is of limited effectiveness.5
Women and men are equally likely to complete a 90-day treatment program, but women who complete a program are nine times more likely to enjoy successful abstinence than women who don’t complete treatment, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.6
By contrast, men who complete treatment are three times more likely to maintain long-term abstinence than men who don’t.
Addiction Differences Between Men and Women
Most Common Group Therapies
Types of Groups
Gender-Specific Treatment Works
Research shows that addressing risks unique to gender may improve the chances clients will stay in treatment for its duration, which goes a long way toward promoting long-term recovery. Gender-specific treatment also improves the process of treatment and the outcomes for both men and women. For men and women who have suffered physical or sexual abuse, gender-specific treatment offers safety and support from peers who have experienced similar circumstances.
Men who complete treatment are to maintain long-term abstinence.
A gender-specific treatment program can help you address issues unique to your sex in an environment that promotes optimal healing. Treatment works for most people who engage fully with their treatment plan, and it can work for you, too.