For many facilities, treatment for addiction is one-size-fits-all. For decades since treatment programs began in the United States, no one questioned whether addiction treatment should look different for men and women. Treatment was just treatment, and most facilities were dual gender, allowing both men and women to access the same treatment programs. Then people started asking questions about whether or not treatment should be different for the two genders. Is treatment for addiction different for men and women?
How Addiction Treatment Was Developed
Beginning in the 1930s, when Alcoholics Anonymous was developed by two men, addiction treatment in the United States continued to evolve based on treating men. All of our knowledge about addiction and its treatment was entirely based on men, despite a growing number of women utilizing treatment programs over the years. Finally, in the 1970s and 1980s, experts began to show interest in understanding if there were differences in treating addiction in women.
Now, more than 50 years after scientists first began asking questions about gender-specific treatment for addiction, most facilities still offer a one-size-fits-all treatment rather than trying to meet the needs of each individual person. As more facilities are learning about the specific needs of each gender, many people still struggle to access appropriate care for their addiction.
Addressing the Needs of Men in Treatment for Addiction
There are still far more men with substance use disorder (SUD) than women, and men are more likely to seek treatment than women. While men are less likely to seek other mental health care or to see their primary care doctors for other health problems, they are more likely to end up in the emergency room due to substance-related issues and also more likely to seek treatment specifically for substance abuse or substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders.
In treatment, men have more difficulty opening up and talking about their emotions. They respond well to structured activities and both group and individual therapy. In particular, they need treatment that focuses on effective communication skills and managing their emotions, especially anger management. Many men also need help with sexual issues, including sexual identity issues. Men with addiction also commonly need treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What Are Women’s Needs in Addiction Treatment?
While women are more likely to seek primary and other mental health care, they are less likely to access treatment for addiction, primarily due to significantly more barriers to treatment than men. The two most common barriers to treatment that women face are family responsibilities and economic barriers.
Included in family responsibilities are access to childcare, fear of having children removed from the home by social services, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and responsibility for elder care. Women face more economic barriers to treatment due to a more significant disparity in income and access to insurance.
Women face more shame and stigma related to substance abuse and treatment than their male peers, often related to their cultural and societal roles as caregivers. Women are also more likely to have co-occurring mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Women benefit from treatment that addresses co-occurring disorders, has strong peer support, and addresses the unique barriers and specific needs that women have in treatment.
There is also a much higher rate of physical and sexual abuse amongst females with addiction, including abuse during childhood. Women are far more likely to have experienced interpersonal violence, as well. This translates to significantly higher rates of trauma and PTSD for women who need treatment. Females need trauma-informed care that addresses the correlation between trauma, mood disorders, and eating disorders. Due to their history of physical and sexual violence, women often need women-only treatment to feel safe.
The Advantages of Single Gender Treatment Programs
While men function well enough in dual-gender programs, they are always better served in single-gender treatment programs. The distractions of romantic relationships while vulnerable during early treatment can be dangerous, especially when running the risk of sex, love, or relationships as replacement addictions. Women are also less likely to open up and be vulnerable when they are in a mixed-gender program.
The advantages of single-gender treatment programs are that they can fully meet the needs of those in their programs. For women especially, the programming in dual-gender treatment programs can be harmful because it can trigger past trauma and worsen their condition. When women can access single-gender treatment programs that properly address their needs, they can find healing from their trauma and addiction, which is more likely to result in a lasting recovery.
Is treatment for addiction different for men and women? Men and women have different treatment needs, so their treatment programming should be diverse. While treatment was developed for men, and there are more men with substance use disorder (SUD), men and women face different needs and barriers to treatment. Women especially need trauma-informed and gender-specific treatment that addresses the additional shame and stigma, the familial concerns, their significantly higher rates of co-occurring disorders and trauma, and other female-specific needs. The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women is a detox and residential treatment center created to meet the specific needs of women with addiction. Our Costa Mesa, California facility provides a peaceful, non-judgmental refuge for women with trauma-informed care. Our goal is to provide a safe place for you to find your way again. What specific needs do you have as a woman? Call us at (714) 581-3974 today.