Although the effects of substance abuse and addiction may be similar among both sexes, the way women and men react to treatment, and their paths to recovery tend to be much different. Many studies have shown that because of this, it’s no surprise that there are factors that have a greater impact on a woman’s treatment compared to men. Women face many unique barriers when searching for treatment options. Some of the major obstacles include:
- Females are usually the family’s primary caregivers, and therefore may have childcare needs/concerns
- Females have additional medical concerns, especially pregnancy-related issues
- PTSD is more common among women due to sexual/physical trauma
- Women are often less financially independent than men
- Women tend to put the needs of others ahead of their own, even when it concerns emotional wellness
Because of reasons like these and many others, attending a gender-specific treatment program can be beneficial for females who want to start their recovery. The major benefits can include the following:
- Provide an Environment of Safety & Security
Past sexual abuse/violence can lead to a woman’s becoming addicted to drugs/alcohol. To successfully navigate the treatment process, it is important that women are able to open up about this kind of abuse. Traditional treatment programs, where men are present, often prevent this because women are scared to speak out, fearing potential repercussions and because they are simply not comfortable in revealing their history/emotions to males. In a women-only environment, they are able to feel safe about talking about this experience and trauma, which allows then to get to the root cause of their addiction.
- Eliminates the Distractions of Romance or Sexual Relationships
Studies have shown that people in recovery, – especially the early stages – struggle to avoid relationships that often make the recovery process more difficult and can add unneeded stress for the individual. Addicts, – male or female – are often wrapped up in ego and selfishness, and cannot, – or are unable to – see that a bad relationship may lead them into more problems, relapse, or worse. Those suffering from addiction and alcoholism are trying to find escapes from themselves. Getting into a relationship allows them to take the focus off themselves, especially in early recovery.
Experts agree that early recovery should be about self-discovery. The life of an addict is inherently self-involved, as they willingly give up many other elements of their lives – relationships, careers, family, future aspirations – as they chase drugs or booze. To get on the path to sobriety, the individual needs to build an entirely new life. That’s why it is preferable to create new routines and find a new direction for their life. It is a period of self-discovery, and that is challenging enough.
Finally, recent studies conducted on the effects of romance on the brain indicate that the experience a person has in a romantic/sexual relationship activates the same parts of the brain that are targeted by substance abuse. Because of these similarities, relationships in early recovery can put addicts at risk of substituting drugs and alcohol with the excitement of romance and intimacy. Although alcohol and drugs are more dangerous than a relationship going bad, this kind of dependence can greatly increase the risk of relapse.
- Gender-Specific Treatment Focuses on Gender-Specific Issues
Women and men have vastly different feelings about seeking treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. They have different issues to deal with. They differ in the frequency of relapse, as well as the circumstances that may result in relapse. Evidence suggests that the different sexes require specific treatment types to help them in recovery and maintain wellness in normal life. Women are more at ease and have a better chance of success in recovery when they are able to communicate with one another about things like motherhood, family life, relationships, and workplace dynamics. These are examples of some of the gender-specific issues that women feel most comfortable addressing in an all-women environment:
Body Image & Self Esteem
Self-esteem/body issues go hand-in-hand with addiction because most addicts have very low self-worth and confidence. This is a tough thing to discuss, especially around men. A treatment group with women suffering from similar issues creates a dynamic that encourages open and honest discussion.
Women are the foundation of the family and primary caregivers. In addition, they have also taken on larger roles in the workforce. This has proven difficult to many due to being the primary caregiver and having to balance work. Many women self-medicate to deal with the pressures of everyday life. Women in this situation find it difficult to go to treatment because they don’t want to face the criticism that they are “letting their families down,” and feel guilty about taking time to look after themselves. But, women in gender-specific programs can discuss this aspect of getting help with other women who have had the same experience and understand the same points of view.
Many women worry that the stigma of going into treatment and admitting they have an addiction will have a negative effect on their position as a parent/caregiver. Obviously, being branded as an “addict” has a negative connotation. This is a difficult label/situation to deal with, and women certainly feel more comfortable discussing it with other women. They are able to overcome the stigma of addiction together.
- Opportunity to Have Open and Honest Discussions
For those in recovery, honest discussions about their lives help women and men realize they are not alone in their situations. Being able to talk to others reduces judgment and embarrassment and leads to compassion and understanding.
Addicts are like anyone else. They feel more comfortable around people who are similar to them. This is especially true for women. To succeed in recovery, the individual has to feel safe. True healing requires you to make oneself vulnerable by confronting the past and being able to share past experiences. Over years of addiction, many became people they were not in the past. Individuals had to take on different personas, whether it was pretending to be strong, sexy, in control, or even weak, in order for the addictive behavior to continue. However, in gender-specific treatment, individuals can stop with the façade, and stop pretending to be someone or something they are not. When women are with women, it creates a community of trust and fellowship that many have never had the opportunity to experience in the past.
- Facilitates Bonding
Establishing a community of trust opens doors that many addicts thought could never be opened. Once individuals enter and become comfortable in a gender-specific treatment center, the protective walls they’ve hidden behind begin to come down. They realize they can make friends and start healthy relationships without fear. They realize that things like drugs, sex, or other favors don’t have to be exchanged. In rehab, individuals who want to be successful see that they are in a similar situation with many others and that collectively, everyone is working towards the same goal. People that may once have been considered the “enemy” have become “family.”
Gender-specific treatment works because it allows individuals to face their recovery without fear. It provides an atmosphere where women can bond over shared experiences. A strong peer network is crucial to helping addicts maintain their sobriety and preventing them from relapsing, and gender-specific treatment has been proven in helping to accomplish this.
The GateHouse Difference
At GateHouse Treatment, our focus on highly personalized and proven treatment approaches coupled with accountability and compassionate staff will enable you to achieve sobriety success. For women who are prepared to overcome their addictions, we offer a personal approach to sobriety that is based on proved addiction treatment methodologies. We participate in recovery by promoting personal responsibility, accountability, and giving you the tools needed to build a strong recovery. We are personally invested in every one of our clients’ recovery processes, and putting people first has always been the bedrock of our treatment philosophy. If you or a loved one is seeking long-term recovery from addiction, call us at (855) 448-3588.