Interestingly, there are not major differences between men and women entering substance use disorder treatment when looking at their substance use histories, type of drugs used, and frequency of drug use. However, if you look at histories of sexual and physical abuse and psychiatric symptoms, there are very significant differences. Women are much more likely than men to report a lifetime history of sexual abuse (36 percent for women and eight percent for men), a suicide attempt (27 percent for women and 15 percent) and significant problems with depression in the 30 days prior to entering treatment (41 percent for women and 29 percent). Women are also more likely to struggle with eating disorders and self-harm behaviors.
For these reasons, there are many benefits to gender-specific treatment. Women-only groups can provide a private environment that makes it easier for women to talk about unique and sensitive issues and experiences. It allows the treatment provider to present education and focus on issues that women might not discuss with their male counterparts in the room such as sexual abuse, depression, self-harming behaviors, and others, while maintaining their feeling of safety and confidentiality.
With substance use and co-occurring disorders treatment, it’s vital that young women honestly look inward at themselves to examine their problems. Gender separation removes some of the pretenses and allows them the freedom to be themselves without the distraction, sexual tension, fear, or any of the other complications that can exist between genders.
Studies in the education field have consistently concluded that women learn and are motivated differently than men and can benefit greatly when learning in an all-women environment. Women in single gender groups display a higher level of confidence and engagement and are more likely to speak up and actively contribute to solve problems presented.
We encourage women to find those treatment centers that provide gender-specific programming. Look for programs where women’s bedrooms and primary group rooms are in a separate wing or building, where women eat together and exercise together without gender distractions, and where female-only staff are specially trained in trauma and other women’s issues. We believe this will give you the greatest chance of success on your journey in recovery.
Deni Carise, Ph.D., [email protected]