Men and women use drugs differently and face different obstacles while in addiction recovery. Gender-specific treatment programs address these differences and allow the genders to heal in a safe and supportive environment.
What Is Gender-Specific Treatment?
Gender-specific addiction treatment refers to drug and alcohol programs that are designed to specifically treat men and women separately. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), there are fundamental biological and cultural differences between men and women in terms of substance abuse. Gender differences exist in rates of dependence, choice of substance, and how the brain responds to substance use. Studies also show that women and men have different reasons for substance use in the first place and differing circumstances that result in relapse. Gender-specific treatment programs are sensitive to all of these issues and address the unique needs of each of the sexes in a comfortable and supportive environment.
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How Addiction Affects the Genders Differently
Men and women experience addiction differently. National data shows that gender is an important factor to consider when examining patterns of substance abuse, including overall prevalence rates and substances of choice. For example, men are more likely than women to report marijuana and alcohol use, whereas women are more likely than men to report non-medical use of prescription drugs.
Men and women also differ in terms of why they started using drugs or alcohol in the first place. Men tend to start engaging in substance abuse because of the perceived benefits they hope to gain from it, such as better concentration, increased sociability, and even improved sex drive/performance. For women, substance abuse is more typically associated with traumatic experiences or abusive relationships. Women often turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to self-medicate and escape painful emotions caused by victimization or abuse. The majority of women who use drugs or alcohol also have a history of family substance abuse and may start using because their spouse or partner is.
Another important difference between the genders is that women often begin using substances of abuse at lower doses than men, and their drug use also escalates more quickly into addiction. Women tend to enter treatment sooner after becoming substance dependent compared to men, but they present with more co-occurring psychological distress, particularly with more mood and anxiety disorders. Men and women may also have very different feelings about seeking treatment for drug or alcohol abuse. All of these differences are significant and can require specific treatment types to help men and women maintain long-term sobriety after rehab.
Benefits of Gender-Specific Treatment
In addition to differences in substance use, men and women also have different expectations and goals from addiction treatment. Gender-specific programs offer multiple benefits for each gender, including:
- Specialized treatment for gender-unique physiological, emotional, and relational issues.
- Elevated comfort as gender-specific treatment encourages a sense of trust and bonding among fellow same-sex clients.
- Minimized sexual tension and distractions between male and female clients.
- Supportive gender-sensitive therapy groups that inspires open communication about social and cultural pressures that can result in substance abuse.
Women have their own specific needs separate from men when it comes to seeking treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, which makes women-specific programs a good option for some. Women are able to communicate with one another regarding things like motherhood, workplace dynamics, relationships, and family life in a safe and supportive environment.
Women that are entering treatment due to addiction after a traumatic event may particularly benefit from gender-specific programs. Women who have experienced verbal, physical, or sexual assault at the hands of a man may not feel safe discussing these events in group therapy that also includes male patients. Abuse usually involves a women’s sense of self-worth and value, and female patients may not feel comfortable discussing these topics in a group with men. Mothers who are suffering from addiction can also benefit from gender-specific treatment. It can be difficult to be away from children during treatment, but with the support of other women and professionals, female clients are able to talk about what it means to have lived with an addiction while trying to care for their kids.
In gender-specific treatment, women receive unconditional love and support while recovering from the disease of addiction. Women are able to empower one another and build a strong support system in women-specific treatment that gives them the life skills they need to lead a successful life after recovery.
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Men have their own specific needs when it comes to addiction treatment, which usually has to do with male cultural roles and stereotypes. Men often feel wary to enter treatment out of fear of being judged or viewed as weak, and gender-specific programs can help male clients feel more comfortable and accepted. Men also typically require more time than women to open up and voice their struggles or emotions. Therefore, certain therapy methods tend to be more helpful to men than others. For example, men respond better to treatment methods that address specific thought patterns and behaviors rather than introspection. Gender-specific treatment for men caters specifically to the physiological, psychological, and emotional needs of men.
Male sexual abuse is another serious issue that gender-specific treatment addresses that is often overlooked in traditional treatment settings. Sexual abuse is an extremely sensitive issue for men that can be handled more openly and honestly in a single-gender setting. Men-specific treatment programs provide an understanding environment for men to build friendships and develop a support network for a lasting recovery.
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Substance abuse affects every individual differently. By tailoring to the needs of each gender, gender-specific treatment programs provide men and women with the right tools and treatment methods to overcome substance abuse. If you think that you could benefit from a gender-specific treatment program, contact a dedicated treatment provider today for more information.