There are cultural and biological factors that mean women often experience addiction differently than men. A quality female-specific rehab program can potentially address those differences with more precision than a general program can.
Some women are also simply more at ease in a women-only environment for rehab. They may feel more comfortable sharing personal stories in group therapy or support group meetings when only other women are present.
Why Might a Person Want Female-Specific Rehab?
There are a few reasons that a person may want to go to a gender-specific rehab program.
Very broadly speaking, women experience addiction differently than men do. A major reason for this is cultural. Gender, as a social construct, can play a significant role in how we act and are treated. On some level, it makes sense that a rehab program should be customized to these types of differences.
Biologically, cisgender women can also differ in some ways from men in how they experience addiction. While it’s important to acknowledge cisgender women aren’t radically different in how they’re affected by most drugs compared to cisgender men, they tend to weigh less, with bodies that contain more fatty tissue and less water.
This changes how some drugs, such as alcohol, affect them. Generally, a man has to consume much more alcohol than a woman to experience the same effects.
Additionally, some women may have traumatic experiences or otherwise very negative feelings relating to men, such as those who have experienced abuse from men in their past. This can make it difficult for them to be comfortable enough around men to properly benefit from addiction treatment, especially when needing to open up about what can be deeply personal struggles.
Even if a person has issues with how they perceive others of different genders that they should work toward overcoming, the focus of addiction treatment should be helping a person maximize their chances of overcoming their addiction. For some people, that may mean going to female-specific rehab.
What the Evidence Suggests Regarding Gender-Specific Rehab
Bearing in mind that people are quite varied and research heavily focuses on cisgender people specifically, there is fairly strong evidence that men and women experience addiction differently. For example, women tend to use less of certain drugs and become addicted to them sooner than men.
There are certain issues that more women tend to deal with than men, such as domestic violence, and these can increase a person’s risk of substance use.
Additionally, while acknowledging some transgender people can also get pregnant, substance use can also affect pregnancy, potentially harming developing fetuses, meaning many different drugs can cause harm and increase the complexity of addiction treatment in ways that primarily only affect women.
Women are more likely to go to the emergency room due to an overdose. They are also more likely to die from an overdose.
Certain substances are associated with a greater amount of panic attacks, anxiety, and depression in women. Some treatment options tend to be less effective for women, such as nicotine patches.
The Need for More Research
As already touched on relating to transgender individuals, it’s important to note that there are gaps in the research on the topic of differences between how men and women experience addiction.
Members of the LGBT community have been shown to differ in how they experience addiction from what available research suggests the typical person of their gender would experience. This likely isn’t the only group where these divergences occur considering how big of a factor culture can play into how addiction is experienced.
Barriers to Treatment
While efforts have been made to change this, women often face greater barriers to accessing treatment for addiction and are less likely to seek treatment than men.
There has also been a trend of women seeking care from less specialized providers. For example, women are more likely to seek help for addiction from a therapist who isn’t focused on a specific set of mental health issues rather than a dedicated addiction treatment provider. This will typically be less effective. Ideally, people should see a specialist for addiction treatment.
Pros & Cons of Women-Only Rehab
The obvious benefit of gender-specific treatment is that it allows for a treatment program to be better tailored to the specific issues that gender group is likely to be dealing with. For example, a rehab for women may have a greater focus on issues relating to domestic violence or pregnancy, as women are more likely to experience these kinds of issues, and they have the potential to contribute to a person’s struggles with addiction.
One drawback of gender-specific treatment is that not everyone fits the “typical” profile of their gender. The more one’s experiences with addiction differ from those typical of their gender, the less effective a program customized to the typical gender experience is going to be. This is especially true for transgender individuals, whose biology won’t generally align with the assumed biology of women that a significant portion of research on women-specific addiction focuses on.
The most important consideration when deciding whether you want to enter a women-specific rehab program is figuring out whether it’s going to maximize your chances of recovery. You can talk with an addiction treatment professional to get their opinion, discussing your concerns and why you are considering a women-only program.
You should also decide whether you need a women-only rehab program or if you’re okay with male treatment providers as long as other patients in the program are all women. Both types of treatment programs exist. You should ask specific treatment providers about what they offer when considering your options.
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Capstone: Women, Addiction, and Gender-Sensitive Treatment: A Review of the Literature. (2016). College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations.
Treatment Outcome and Readmission Risk Among Women in Women-Only Versus Mixed-Gender Drug Treatment Programs in Chile. (March 2022). Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.