Why Should Men and Women Be Treated for Addiction Separately?

Addiction affects men and women about equally, men and women are about as likely to complete treatment, and men and women are about as likely to enjoy a long recovery. And addiction tends to have similar features for both men and women. So with all these similarities, why are men and women often separated during addiction treatment? There are a number of reasons gender-specific treatment makes a lot of sense and leads to better outcomes. Keep in mind, these things are true on average. Everyone is different, but the following tend to be true of the differences between men and women overall.

Men and women start using substances for different reasons.

Everyone has different reasons for using drugs and alcohol, and often they are barely aware of their reasons themselves. Broadly speaking, men will start using substances for some kind of positive gain, either to feel good, have more confidence, be able to work longer hours, or just to see what happens. Men typically perceive drugs and alcohol as less dangerous than women do and so are more likely to take risks with new substances.

Women, on the other hand, are more likely to use substances to escape negative feelings, such as depression, anxiety, shame, or painful memories. That is, women are more likely to use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate to get back to normal rather than to seek pleasure. Paradoxically, men are more likely to use drugs or alcohol to relieve the symptoms of depression, while women are more likely to seek help for depression. However, women are also about twice as likely to have depression as men.

Men are more likely to use drugs with friends, while women are more likely to start using drugs with a romantic partner. This connection with a partner who uses has repercussions throughout treatment and recovery, especially for women in codependent relationships. And once women start using drugs or alcohol, they tend to become dependent much faster. Since women metabolize drugs and alcohol differently than men, the practical effect is that they take a much higher dose. This leads physical dependence much more quickly and also increases risk of health problems related to substance use.

Men and women have different issues in treatment.

Most people with a substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental health issue. The patterns of these issues are different for men and women. Women, for example, are much more likely to have depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder, whereas men are more likely to suffer from autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, or schizophrenia.

Women may have more health complications as well. Pregnancy is a major one that can make detox and treatment more challenging. Pregnancy itself requires specialized medical care and it also changes women’s treatment needs. The hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy are often extreme and must be taken into consideration during therapy. And since most medications are off limits for pregnant women, therapist may have to use a different approach to treating co-occurring conditions. Studies have also found that women who begin treatment early in their pregnancies are more likely to drop out, so special care must be taken to ensure pregnant women stick with the program. Although pregnancy is typically the biggest physical challenge for women in treatment, even hormonal changes from menstruation can complicate treatment. As noted above women are also more likely to have health complications as a result of substance use, since women metabolize substances differently and this can lead to more organ damage.

Although men also have health issues to manage in treatment, especially in older populations, the need for specialized medical care is not so pronounced. Separating men and women allows for more specialized medical care as well as psychological care.

Some things are easier to talk about separately.

Since men and women tend to have different issues in recovery, separating them streamlines the process. In group therapy, members can spend more time on issues relevant to the group. This is further facilitated by separating people by age too. There are also reasons having mixed groups might stifle discussion. Men and women often have trouble speaking freely in front of each other. Men are often especially self-conscious talking about their feelings around women their own age. And especially among younger guys, mixed company can engender distracting feelings of jealousy and competition.

Women are much more likely than men to be victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and sexual assault, which often plays a major role in addiction. These issues can be hard to talk about in front of men, especially men were typically the aggressors in these traumatic experiences. Men are less often victims of sexual assault and abuse, but when they are, it can be especially hard for them to talk about in front of women.

Separating men and women also tends to foster a sense of camaraderie, since the group members are more likely to feel they have things in common. Again, this is further developed by separating groups by age. The more you feel others share your experiences, the easier it is to communicate and feel a sense of belonging.

Romantic relationships complicate treatment.

Whenever people spend a lot of time around members of the opposite sex around the same age, they are likely to pair up, especially younger people, who are more likely to be single. This is fine in high school or college, but it’s often a bad idea in addiction treatment. Most experts recommend you not get into a new relationship until you’ve been sober for at least a year. Getting into a relationship early in recovery is a major liability. A breakup can leave you depressed and a partner who quits treatment or relapses makes it more likely you will do the same. Separating men and women reduces the distractions and liabilities romantic relationships often cause.

Daylight Recovery Services takes a holistic approach to substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment to address the physical, psychological, and spiritual facets of addiction and recovery. We ensure clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact one of our recovery experts today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.