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When Mental Health and Substance-use Disorders Are Treated Simultaneously

Deni Carise weighs in on some of the benefits of gender-separated treatment for women struggling with co-occuring mental health and substance use disorders.

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).
  • 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.

Supporting women

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. It also 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. They can also benefit greatly when learning in an all-women environment. Women in single gender groups display a higher level of confidence and engagement. They are also 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.
  • 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.

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