“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

With all the information available online dealing with addiction and recovery, there is at least one topic that tends to get neglected: the importance of gender-specific treatment in overcoming addiction. 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. This is because addiction treatment services tailored to the needs of women. This may sound straightforward enough, but the fact is some treatment facilities fail to take into account the needs of women that come into their care. These needs range from mental to physical. 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
  • 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.

What is Gender-Specific Treatment?

In simple terms, alcohol and drug addiction treatment for women essentially means accounting for the specific needs of women, both in their addiction and during recovery. As one recent magazine article puts it, “Addiction does not discriminate but there are legitimate reasons why treatment should.” In other words, women as well as men may experience addiction or alcoholism – but that does not necessarily mean that they should experience addiction recovery the same way. When rehab facilities choose to focus in on addiction treatment options for women, it essentially means that they are doing their best to make rehabilitation the best it can possibly be.

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)

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

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, 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 in on equipping women with the coping strategies to deal with the stigma of addiction and recovery, as well as specific tools for keeping healthy habits throughout the recovery process. Both of these aspects of drug and alcohol rehab focus on providing the best possible addiction treatment for women. This is the foundation of gender-specific addiction treatment: to ensure that rehabilitation works, and works well. The research insight from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, quoted above, makes it clear that this is usually the case.

Why is Gender-Specific Treatment so Important?

From the description of addiction treatment for women above, it may already be quite clear why gender-specific treatment for alcohol and addiction rehab is so important. Thankfully, the United States has seen a change in the way women are treated for addiction and 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

Clearly, more and more trained individuals within the field of addiction treatment and drug rehab are realizing that it is important to offer gender-sensitive services during the rehab process. This is because of the benefit that it can offer to women within drug or alcohol rehab. 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 three major reasons for the importance:

  • Physiological Differences: 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 from this addiction. Even though women are less likely to develop a drug or alcohol addiction than men, when addiction does develop it often progresses which quicker and causes stronger physiological effects.
  • Vulnerability: Women can be more vulnerable to predation or abuse, both when engaging in their addiction and when starting on the road to recovery. Moreover, 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.
  • Stigmatization: Women face double the stigma of addiction as men. As one addiction counselor has said, “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.” Providing specific services for women participating addiction treatment is a good way to avoid having to deal with these stigmas, at least while in rehab itself.

Women’s addiction recovery involves overcoming all of these areas, in addition to substance abuse and addiction itself. Clearly alcohol and drug addiction treatment for women is different than it is for men. The benefit of gender-specific addiction treatment, as highlighted above, is that women are better able to overcome both their addiction and the social, mental, emotional and physical side effects of it. Engaging in this kind of program specifically designed for women can prove to be a good start for kicking alcohol or drugs to the curb.

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, setting them on a course toward a healthier and happier life. Just 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 participating in a women-only facility means having a safe and supportive environment as 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. If you have any further questions about the importance gender-specific treatment or how it works, feel free to contact us today.

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