Women and men have different reasons for substance abuse, experience addiction differently, and have different circumstances that result in relapse. It stands to reason that there would naturally be gender-specific treatment programs available — yet for years addiction treatment was geared mainly toward men.

Fortunately, addiction treatment centers increasingly recognize the need and value in gender-specific treatment, including Fountain Hills Recovery, which offers separate treatment programs for men and women along with family therapy. There is much greater awareness of the benefits of gender-specific treatment, as well as the different reasons for addiction between men and women.

What are gender differences in terms of substance use disorders?

It’s helpful to understand that sex differences result from biological factors, such as sex chromosomes and hormones, while gender differences are based on culturally defined roles for men and women.

  • A sex difference would be the fact that women achieve higher concentrations of alcohol in the blood and become more impaired than men after drinking equivalent amounts of alcohol. Research also suggests that women are more susceptible than men to alcohol-related organ damage.
  • A gender difference is that men are more likely to report marijuana and alcohol abuse, while women are more likely than men to report their addiction to prescription drugs. Data show that gender is an important factor to consider when examining patterns of substance abuse, including overall prevalence rates and substances of choice.

Men and women report different reasons why they started using drugs or alcohol. Men start because they perceive certain benefits like better concentration, increased sociability, and even improved sex performance. Women tend to use alcohol or drugs as a way to self-medicate or escape painful emotions brought on by abuse or traumatic relationships. Many women also have a history of family substance abuse.

Women usually start using substances at lower doses than men, though their use more quickly escalates into addiction. Women tend to enter treatment sooner, though they often also suffer from psychological distress, such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder. Men and women also have very different feelings about entering treatment.

When looking at gender differences in terms of treatment, there are often more barriers for women. According to a recent study by the NIH’s Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women are more likely than men to face multiple barriers to accessing substance abuse treatment and are less likely to seek treatment. Women also tend to seek care in mental health or primary care settings rather than in specialized treatment programs, which may contribute to poorer treatment outcomes.

So gender-specific treatment addresses the specific gendered issues that lead individuals into substance abuse.

What is the focus of a gender-specific treatment program?

Women and men have different reasons for their drug or alcohol abuse. They also have different treatment goals and expectations.

These programs include a sensitivity to,  and a consideration and examination of, their circumstances, which can affect things like their potential for relapse.

Gender-sensitive treatment is informed by knowledge and understanding of the differences, inequalities and varying needs of women and men, and the interrelationship of gender with people’s histories, social and economic situations, treatment needs, and experience of mental health and alcohol or other drug issues.

Gender-specific treatment programs remove the distractions that can arise just by being around the opposite sex. They allow people to focus on their own gender issues. For example, people may feel more comfortable talking about sensitive issues, such as pregnancy, sex, children or eating disorders, when they’re surrounded by others who can intimately relate. They can also foster more lasting relationships with their peers in a safe and supportive environment.

5 benefits of gender-specific treatment programs

1. Specialized treatment

As we discussed earlier, women tend to abuse prescription drugs, while men abuse marijuana or alcohol. Each gender’s emotional, relational and physiological needs are different and must be properly addressed. Also, men may require a 90-day program or residential treatment more often than women.

2. Peer-focused support

Women and men face different societal challenges and have life experiences that are uniquely colored through the lens of gender. Being surrounded by others of the same sex encourages a greater level of comfort and bonding.

3. Reduced distractions and tensions

Being around members of the opposite sex during treatment, especially in mixed-gender support group sessions, can create mental, emotional or physical sexual distraction and tension. Men and women may be hesitant or afraid to open up around one another, or may become attracted to each other. When these distractions are removed, men and women may be more relaxed and inclined to be more open and honest.

4. Less time arguing, more time discussing

Only women understand the struggles of pregnancy and addiction. Men may battle with stereotypes of masculinity and addiction that women might not relate to. There are many hot-button topics surrounding gender in our society that can lead to debates and arguments that distract from the main goals of getting treatment.

When men and women are separated into same-sex groups for treatment, gender battles more often fall to the wayside. Instead, more time can be spent sharing and discussing the issues they each experience.

5. More effective treatment

If someone doesn’t feel comfortable being around someone of the opposite sex, they may not feel comfortable participating or engaging. They don’t fully benefit from support group sessions, or may feel isolated, unfulfilled, unheard or left out. Those who feel more connected to people around them are more inclined to participate and feel like part of the group. In turn, they’re more likely to find the courage to move forward with their treatment.

Learn more about gender-specific treatment available in Arizona

At Fountain Hills Recovery, we understand that addiction treatment can be overwhelming in itself. You may greatly benefit from a gender-specific setting for your treatment, where you’ll find a safe, supportive and judgment-free environment that works well for your unique needs.

Our team of professionals is here to help you break free from addiction so that you can experience a future that includes lasting recovery. Contact our team today to discover how our men’s and women’s  treatment programs thoughtfully serve each gender.