You may remember the book that spawned the popular saying that “men are from Mars and women are from Venus.” That book was about learning how to communicate effectively with the opposite sex, and it underscored the point that men and women think and communicate differently.
Why is that point important in the realm of addiction and addiction treatment? Simply put, there are gender differences in addiction, both in the way each gender develops a substance use disorder and the way a substance use disorder is most effectively treated.
How a Substance Use Disorder Develops
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) states:
“While addiction is an equal opportunity disease, women become addicted differently, start using for different reasons, progress faster, recover differently and relapse for different reasons than men.”
For women, trauma related to violence and abuse is often a triggering factor for the development of a substance use disorder. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states:
“More than 1 in 3 women have experienced physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner, including a range of behaviors from slapping, pushing or shoving to severe acts such as being beaten, burned, raped or choked. Victims of violence are at increased risk of chronic health conditions, including obesity, chronic pain, depression and substance use.”
Though trauma is also a major triggering factor for men who later develop substance use disorder, the trauma that women encounter is often a result of abuse at the hands of someone of the opposite sex.
The prevalence of co-occurring disorders with a substance use disorder also differs between men and women. NIDA continues:
“Although men are more likely than women to report both a mental health and substance use disorder within the past year, women are more likely to suffer from certain mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and eating disorders … In addition, women are more vulnerable to developing substance use or other mental health disorders following divorce, loss of child custody, or the death of a partner or child.”
Considering these differences in how the genders develop an addiction, it makes sense that the treatment for a substance use disorder should take such differences into account. What are the benefits of gender-specific treatment?
The Benefits of Gender-Specific Treatment for Women
When asked about how women benefit from addiction treatment focused on their unique needs, Dr. Stephanie Covington, a long-time advocate of gender-specific treatment, observed:
“We are recognizing the importance of having women’s treatment include the multiple issues and challenges that they face in their lives … we have learned that women respond to a variety of therapeutic interventions, including mindfulness, guided imagery and experiential exercises.”
Covington also notes that in her years of working with women in recovery, she has observed that when men and women are part of a co-ed group, both genders tend to de-focus on their own recovery. Since the focus of recovery is on self-awareness, gender-specific treatment can help those in recovery better focus and process.
Women-only support groups give participants a safe place to discuss and explore past traumas that may have contributed to a substance use disorder.
Also, women-only settings take into account the cultural view of women and substance misuse and often focus on how to destigmatize substance use disorders among women, while men-only groups can do the same.
Women can also focus more clearly on the role body image might play in substance misuse or the development of co-occurring disorders like depression or eating disorders.
The Benefits of Gender-Specific Treatment for Men
Men can also benefit from gender-specific treatment. Men-only groups provide a safe environment wherein men can let down their defenses and discuss areas of concern such as mental disorders like PTSD, the expectation of society for men to be “too strong” to suffer from substance use disorder or mental illness, and worries concerning how addiction impacts their sexual health, their work performance and their relationship with significant others.
Co-Ed and Gender-Specific Groups Play Their Part in Recovery
Of course, co-ed groups also play a part in addiction recovery for many people. Such groups often provide perspective for all participants into the mind of those of the opposite sex, thereby rounding out the recovery experience.
If you are currently dealing with a substance use disorder, The Recovery Village Palmer Lake offers Colorado addiction resources including comprehensive addiction treatment plans to address your specific needs. Contact The Recovery Village Palmer Lake today to discuss treatment options.