The Importance of Gender-specific Recovery
Addiction is a disease that affects both men and women, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they experience the disease the same way.
Men and women respond to drug and alcohol treatment differently. Gender-specific treatment programs can meet each group’s specific needs to help them move forward toward long-term sobriety.
Substance Abuse Treatment for Women: It’s About Relationships
When women start abusing drugs and alcohol, it’s often in the context of a relationship. They may begin using with a partner, close friend, or family member. The relationship with another person is a key to starting the behavior. Since women tend to weigh less than men, it takes less of a particular drug or alcohol to make them intoxicated.
The hormone levels in a woman’s body also mean that drugs and alcohol affect them differently than men. We know that pregnant women who abuse alcohol and/or drugs may be putting their unborn children at risk for health problems. Because there is a stigma attached to seeking help for substance abuse when pregnant or as a mother, women may shy away from getting the help they need due to concerns that their children may be taken from them if they try to get well.
Even in a best-case scenario, a mother who needs help for substance abuse likely feels that she can’t take time to get help for herself until she has made sure that her family is looked after. Who will look after her children if she goes into treatment? Will they be adequately cared for?
Drug and alcohol treatment programs for women often include other services to address the specific needs of women. These include intervention services before women enter treatment programs, as well as outreach and case management services.
It’s important that women seeking help for drug and alcohol abuse feel that they are not being judged for their past choices and behaviors. They want to get well and move forward without feeling as though their past is constantly being held over their head.
This is especially true if a woman experiences a relapse. It’s not uncommon for someone in recovery to have a slip or even a full-blown relapse. Women may need support to decide whether they can get back on track on their own or if they need to seek professional help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness in this situation–it’s a good strategy.
Substance Abuse Treatment for Men: Dealing with Shame
As a rule, men tend to enter treatment programs for substance abuse later in their addiction than women. This may mean that they need longer and more intense addiction treatment when they do seek help.
In many instances, men who abuse drugs or alcohol also have a history of sexual abuse during their younger years. Many men feel ill-equipped to disclose this part of their personal history and may carry a large amount of guilt or shame around past incidents. They may not know how to express what happened to them, especially if they were brought up in a non-supportive environment.
It can be very difficult to ask men to discuss past sexual or physical abuse in a mixed group. They may be much more comfortable in a group that is made up solely of other men, where there is not the pressure to be “in control” all the time. Opening up in a male-only group may be less stressful for them.
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