A person’s sex can play a role in their recovery process. Women deal with certain issues in life and recovery that are unique to their sex. As a result, they may benefit from treatment that occurs in a female-only environment.
In a women-only rehab, treatment is delivered by female therapists, doctors, and other staff members. All the other clients in the program are also women.
Gender can have a profound effect on substance use disorders. It can influence how a person’s addiction plays out, how fast it occurs, and even motivations to get well. Per a 2014 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), gender can even influence a person’s drug of choice.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that women with substance use disorders progress at a different timeline than men. Things get more complicated when it comes to women who have children or are pregnant. They may delay or refuse treatment out of fear of losing custody of their children.
Additionally, SAMHSA found a few differences in how gender influences a person’s addiction by collecting data from rehab centers.
In a paper published in September 2016, Current Treatment Options in Psychiatry stated that rehab programs should consider gender during treatment because:
Additionally, Healthline has described how women and men with alcohol misuse issues must consider their biological differences. Women who drink are less likely to receive help because of pressure to deny they have problems and their role as caretakers.
Biological differences between men and women also mean that women are more likely to get cirrhosis with less alcohol use than men.
Treatment can be a crucial way to prevent these potential health risks.
A 2009 study published on Psychiatric Servicesstated that up until the 1970s, it was common for rehabilitation centers to ignore the different needs of women and men. The women’s movement did a lot to point out these differences.
In the 1980s, the first programs began targeting pregnant women as the crack epidemic meant that there was plenty of publicity regarding women who use this substance during pregnancy.
A few common themes of women-focused treatment are:
Women-centered treatment can open doors for women who would normally avoid treatment. They may be more likely to seek help from an environment that is attuned to their unique needs.
There is still a lot of stigma related to substance misuse in women. Female-only centers break down much of this.
In some cultures, it may be preferable for women to seek treatment or help in an environment that is not mixed with men. Psychiatric Services does not provide an exact number, but it does mention that women’s-only rehab facilities have multiplied during the past years, especially during the 1990s and 2000s.
In June 2016, UN Women published a press release explaining how drug and alcohol treatment can benefit women. The organization noted that:
Though this may not be much of an issue in some parts of the world, UN Women also reported the following obstacles faced by women who need treatment:
Treatment in programs created just for women might better address substance abuse issues in this demographic, but it does not mean female-only treatment is the answer for all women.
SAMHSA states that more research is needed to figure out who might benefit most from gender-specific treatment, so it is difficult to say whether or not some women may be hindered by entering a women’s-only facility. So far, data shows that women-centered treatment might provide more benefits than issues.
Women and men have different motivations when it comes to staying in treatment for substance misuse. Among male and female clients at inpatient addiction treatment programs:
It is true that relapse rates can hamper some people from receiving treatment. After all, why try something if you are going to start using again?
But NIDA states that relapse is common to various chronic conditions. Those in substance abuse treatment tend to relapse at rates of 40 to 60 percent, which is similar to relapse rates with other conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.
Women who seek treatment at a gender-specific center should know many variables can contribute to the success of their treatment.
The treatment should be individualized to the person’s needs. It isn’t enough to just seek care at a female-only facility. The treatment program must be tailored further to address the woman’s specific needs in recovery.
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(June 2016) Bringing women’s needs into policy response on drug use. UN Women. Retrieved April 2019 from http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2016/6/bringing-womens-needs-into-policy-response-on-drug-use
(January 2018) Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): How effective is drug addiction treatment? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-effective-drug-addiction-treatment
(July 2018) Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use Disorder Treatment. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/substance-use-in-women/sex-gender-differences-in-substance-use-disorder-treatment
(September 2016) Gender Considerations in Addiction: Implications for Treatment. Current Treatment Options in Psychiatry. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4578628/
(September 2016) Treatment Program Dropouts. Verywell Mind. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.verywellmind.com/treatment-program-dropouts-67860
(July 2009) What Is “Women-Focused” Treatment for Substance Use Disorders? Psychiatric Services. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2753530/
(July 2018) Substance Use in Women. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/substance-use-in-women/sex-gender-differences-in-substance-use