“Instead of looking at the past, I put myself ahead twenty years and try to look at what I need to do now in order to get there then.”

~ Diana Ross

There are plenty of addiction resources online for those struggling with addiction. While many people can easily learn about the different types of addiction treatment programs available, like inpatient and outpatient rehabs, not many people are aware of a specialized type of care known as gender-specific treatment. 

Creating effective drug and alcohol treatment for women is crucial to ensuring that alcoholism and drug abuse can be effectively and adequately dealt with by treatment facilities. Gender-specific treatment for women offers services that are tailored to the needs of women. Although it may seem obvious that each gender struggles with specific issues and require specific types of treatment, some treatment facilities fail to take into account the needs of women that come into their care. These needs range from mental to physical. 

This post addresses all of the questions that you may have about how gender-specific addiction treatment works, and why it is so important. The major questions addressed here include:

  • What is gender-specific treatment?
  • How are women’s needs in addiction treatment different than men’s needs in addiction treatment?
  • What are the physiological differences in terms of addiction for men and for women?
  • Why is addiction treatment associated with such a stigma for women?
  • What does addiction treatment for women look like in practice?
  • What services and types of treatment are available for women?
  • Why is gender-specific treatment so important in the United States?

Of course, this is not an exhaustive guide to addiction and alcoholism treatment for women. But the discussion here can give you a good idea of what to expect when it comes to attending drug or alcohol rehab for women.

Women Deal with Addiction Differently from Men

The different genders have great physiological differences. This means that they’ll experience addiction in different manners and ways. Addiction hits each gender differently, and their needs will also vary when it comes to recovery. Addiction treatment facilities that can take these physiological differences into account will offer a higher quality of care.

“According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, approximately 4.5 million American women have some type of addiction. An estimated 3.1 million women abuse illicit drugs regularly and another 3.5 million misuse prescription drugs on almost a daily basis.”

Let’s take a look at several differences when it comes to addicted women. Women who struggle with substance abuse disorders (such as alcoholism or drug addiction) tend to:

  • Experience a faster progression of addiction or alcoholism than men.
  • Experience other mental health issues in conjunction with their addiction
  • Experience the difficulty of facing larger barriers to getting the help they need for recovery
  • Experience more of a stigma in relation to their drug addiction or alcoholism
  • Experience recovery in a different way, and therefore benefit from a gender-specific treatment approach

These differences range from the physical to the emotional to the mental. Addiction rehab centers must take all of these factors into account. As there are many differences, rehab facilities that offer gender-specific treatment are considered to be specialized. 

Why Does Addiction Affect Both Genders Differently?

Addiction involves the same type of withdrawal symptoms and cravings, so why is a new wave of addiction specialists urging for gender-specific care to become the norm?

Studies show that women in recovery tend to face different challenges and obstacles than men in recovery. Let’s take a look at one of the reasons why. 

Women tend to have lower body weight and a higher body fat percentage than men. Their reproductive organs themselves contain quite a bit of body fat. This physiological difference will need to be taken into account in recovery. A woman’s body will actually store substances in fatty cells and tissues for longer periods of time. 

Due to this reason, alcohol and drugs tend to have a longer effect on women. It also tends to take longer for their body to completely metabolize and remove these substances. These differences cause women to develop substance use disorders (SUDs) at a much quicker rate than men. Women also tend to have higher relapse rates.

As a result, a gender-specific treatment program for women must have a very strong and strict relapse prevention plan. Women may require longer outpatient services or may benefit from sober living arrangements. 

What is Gender-Specific Treatment?

gender specific treatment

Gender-specific rehabs offer the same type of evidence-based treatment approaches are regular rehab facilities. The primary difference is that these treatment facilities are able to offer alcohol and drug addiction treatment with extra care for the specific needs of women. This enhances the recovery process.

Both men and women experience recovery in different ways, and gender-specific programming will pave the way.

As one recent magazine article puts it, “Addiction does not discriminate but there are legitimate reasons why treatment should.” 

Women and men don’t often experience addiction or alcoholism in the same way. Since that’s the case, they are going to experience addiction recovery in the same way either. When rehab facilities choose to focus in on addiction treatment options for women, they improve the quality of care, reduce relapse rates and offer a more personalized treatment experience.

The Four Different Components of Gender-Specific Programming

Gender-specific treatment facilities are able to offer a specific standard of care. They also offer specific treatment programs that cannot be found in regular rehabs. When looking for a gender-specific rehab facility, you must first be able to determine what services are offered at these facilities.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a gender-specific treatment program has at least four specific components:

  1. They seek to improve care for women who seek help in their mental health
  2. They focus on referring women to specialized addiction treatment
  3. They identify specific subgroups of women who could most benefit from a gender-specific addiction intervention
  4. They address the female-specific risk factors of addiction (including initiating treatment, continuing treatment, and finding the best outcome for treatment)

This definition of gender-specific addiction treatment is not meant to put forward a concrete formulation of what rehab should look like. Instead, under these four components, addiction treatment for women can take on a variety of forms. 

Some aspects of these rehab programs will focus on creating strong and healthy bonds between participants and on building up a level of trust that can serve as the foundation of a support system. This is particularly important for women who are struggling with both addiction and the emotional and mental health issues associated with trauma and abuse.

Other aspects of the same program may focus on equipping women with coping strategies to deal with the stigma of addiction and recovery. They may also equip them with specific tools for keeping healthy habits throughout the recovery process. These aspects of drug and alcohol rehab focus on providing the best possible addiction treatment for women. This foundation of gender-specific addiction treatment ensures that rehabilitation works, and works well. 

Research Insight: Gender-Specific Treatment is Highly Effective

“Women who receive treatment in gender-sensitive programs are more likely to be employed 12 months after treatment admission than women in more traditional treatment programs. Additionally, women who complete treatment have greater odds of being employed than women not completing treatment. This research is of particular importance since women with substance abuse disorders have reported barriers to employment, which can be a protective factor against relapse.”

~ National Institute on Drug Abuse

So, just how effective is gender-specific treatment? Is it absolutely necessary? Do those who receive gender-specific treatment have a better shot at recovery?

The science in this area is a bit murky. Several studies have looked at whether gender-specific rehab treatment programs really do reduce relapse rates and increase abstinence rates.

The basic gist is this. Some people get the same amount of benefit from receiving gender-specific treatment as regular rehab. They are just as likely to relapse and are just as likely to abstain from drugs or alcohol regardless of which approach they take. 

With that said, some studies found that some people, especially women, actually benefit from getting gender-specific treatment. They are more likely to continue to abstain from alcohol and drugs after completing an addiction treatment program at a gender-specific treatment facility. They are also more likely to be employed.

From this, we can conclude that gender-specific treatment may be a better choice for some individuals. With that said, one thing is clear: getting gender-specific treatment won’t harm any addicts. They either receive a tremendous amount of support and care from it that fills a void that they need or they receive the same standard of care. 

In short, there’s no harm in trying a gender-specific treatment plan. Those who have already tried regular rehab, but felt like something was missing should highly consider seeking gender-specific treatment. It may make a huge difference. 

Why is Gender-Specific Treatment so Important?

Because gender-specific treatment for alcohol and addiction rehab is so important, the United States has changed the way women are treated for addiction. Medical professionals are dedicated to ensuring that addicted women are given the help they need to recover from their substance abuse disorder.

“Today many (although not all treatment programs offer gender-specific or gender-sensitive services, such as gender-matching with counselors, mixed-gender treatment groups led by male and female co-leaders, gender-specific treatment groups, and gender-specific treatment content. Many programs also provide ancillary or wraparound services, such as childcare and parenting groups, which facilitate women’s treatment entry and continuation. In addition, significant numbers of treatment programs serve women only, target pregnant women or adolescent girls, or offer specialized parenting services for women and their children.”

~ Dr. Carla A. Green, writing for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

More and more trained professionals within the field of addiction treatment and drug rehab are realizing that it is important to offer gender-sensitive services during the recovery process. 

The Fix, an online magazine that discusses addiction and recovery, recently published an article the importance of gender-specific treatment. The magazine made it clear that this form of treatment is absolutely crucial for women, listing the three major reasons below.

There are physiological differences between men and women when it comes to the way that they develop addiction and the way that they handle rehabilitation. Women are less likely to develop a drug or alcohol addiction than men; however, when addiction does develop, it often progresses more quickly and causes stronger physiological effects.

These physiological differences can be attributed to not only genetic differences, but also body weight and body fat percentage. It may also boil down to metabolic differences between genders.

Women can be more vulnerable to predation or abuse, both when engaging in their addiction and when starting on the road to recovery. Providing a gender-specific addiction treatment environment for both men and women can help recovering addicts avoid the pitfalls of romantic relationships. This is particularly true during the early stages of the rehabilitation process.

Vulnerability can also come from more than just romantic relationships. Many women who struggle with addiction also struggle with some type of co-occurring mental health disorder. This means that they are more vulnerable and may be more susceptible to suggestions. These individuals will benefit greatly from being in a safe and peaceful environment. They also need dual diagnosis treatment.

Drug and alcohol rehab centers that are gender-specific will look at specific mental health issues that are more likely to affect women. They’ll offer a peaceful environment that is free of any distractions.

Women face double the stigma of addiction as men. Many people are under the misguided assumption that women who are addicts have loose morals. Women who are struggling with addiction may feel judged if they were to seek help.

One addiction counselor has summed up the stigma of addiction for men and women with, “The thing is that a good woman doesn’t get drunk. A good woman doesn’t fall back on these chemicals. While men in their cups are foolish, women in their cups are evil.” 

Gender-specific rehab centers help remove this stigma. They provide women-only facilities and will also hammer down the concept that addiction does not discriminate. Every individual is just as likely to get hooked on alcohol and drugs. These facilities provide a safe space for addicted women to explore the reasons behind why they got addicted in the first place and what they can do in the future to help themselves.

Women’s addiction recovery programs overcome all of these areas. Alcohol and drug addiction treatment plans for women are different than it is for men. With gender-specific addiction treatments, women are better able to overcome both their addiction and the social, mental, emotional and physical side effects of it. Getting admitted into this kind of program can be a good start for kicking alcohol or drugs to the curb.

Common Barriers for Getting Treatment

Gender-specific treatment for substance abuse can also be particularly beneficial to women, as it helps women get over common barriers that prevent them from getting treatment. Women are less likely to seek help even if they are facing serious consequences for their addiction. On the other hand, men in the same position will usually have already sought out help.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common barriers that prevent women from getting treatment below:

  1. Women are more likely to experience economic barriers to treatment. Fortunately, there are many state and federal funded programs that can help. If you have health insurance, we can also verify your insurance information for you. There’s a good chance that a good portion of your costs is already covered. 
  2. Women are more likely to have difficulties attending sessions regularly due to family responsibilities. Our outpatient services will work with each patient to ensure that treatment falls within certain times. We want to make sure that everyone who needs treatment gets it.
  3. There are fewer post-treatment substance abuse services for women. This includes finding sober living arrangements and more. Here, at Women’s Recovery, we can help connect you with the right addiction resources. 
  4. Women are less likely to seek help because they feel ashamed or embarrassed. We offer discreet services. Your information will be confidential, and your privacy is our main concern. This is the same for all rehab centers in America. We will also ensure that you are in a safe space. A women-only treatment facility can take away a lot of shame. 
  5. Women tend to struggle with more co-occurring disorders that prevent them from seeking help.

Gender-specific rehab facilities work hard towards removing most of these barriers. Their goal is to make addiction treatment as accessible as possible.

Co-Occurring Disorders and Addiction Treatment for Women

As mentioned above, many women who need addiction treatment struggle with some type of co-occurring disorder. Often, the co-occurring mental health disorder may have prompted the alcohol and drug abuse in the first place. 

co-occurring disorders

For example, someone who is struggling with depression may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. These substances may balance out the neurochemicals in the brain to create a more neutral or positive emotional experience.

Many women who struggle with addiction have also dealt with some type of trauma. This can be anything from childhood trauma, physical trauma or sexual trauma. Studies show that many women who are addicted to drugs and alcohol may have used substances to cope with traumatic events.

Gender-specific treatment facilities for women will spend a significant time exploring the underlying reasons behind the addiction. They will explore the various types of trauma that each patient may have experienced during one-on-one counseling or group therapy. This can help induce the healing process for many women. They’ll get a better handle over why they decided to use drugs or drink in the first place, and also gain a better understanding of their triggers.

Behavioral therapies, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), can then reverse these poor habits and instill better habits among patients. They’ll learn how to manage addictive behaviors and how to better deal with negative emotions and thoughts.

Looking Forward:

How to Get the Addiction Treatment That You Need

Being a sober woman may not be easy, but it is certainly worth it. Thankfully, there are many addiction treatment services available to help women through rehabilitation. These services set them on a course toward a healthier and happier life. Some of the services typically provided in gender-specific treatment for alcohol or drug addiction include:

  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Inpatient treatment and medical detox
  • Drug and alcohol screening services
  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Case management services
  • Trauma treatment

Engaging in these services while staying in a women-only facility means having a safe and supportive environment tailored just for you. Both the physical and emotional effects of addiction begin to heal. This is a process taken one step at a time, and these programs can help with those first few steps. 

Before getting admitted into a gender-specific treatment center, schedule a tour of the facility. Take this opportunity to speak with the specialists to get a better idea of how their programs differ from standard addiction treatment programs. Don’t hesitate to ask them questions about the type of mental health services that their facilities specialize in, and the services and amenities that make them stand out from other programs in your area.

If you have any further questions about the importance of gender-specific treatment or how it works, feel free to contact us today. We can help you determine whether this is the right option for you.

View Sources:

Carla A. Green. (2006). Gender and Use of Substance Abuse Treatment Services. Retrieved from: https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh291/55-62.htm

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014, December). Women who receive gender-specific substance abuse treatment have greater chance of employment. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2014/12/women-who-receive-gender-specific-substance-abuse-treatment-have-greater-chance-employment