February 01, 2023 By Leah Malone

The Benefits of Gender-Specific Treatment


Fundamental biological and behavioral differences exist between individuals of different sexes and genders. However, these differences are not always considered when it comes to treatment and recovery for substance use disorder (SUD) and other mental health disorders. Different from co-ed treatment, gender-specific treatment acknowledges the unique elements of gender that often contribute to substance abuse and mental illness.

Gender-specific treatment is provided through men-only and women-only treatment programs. These programs are sensitive to and specifically address the unique needs of each gender in an environment that is both comfortable and supportive. Learning about the benefits of gender-specific treatment can help individuals narrow down the best-fit treatment options for them and understand how gender can play a unique role in recovery.

Substance Abuse Differences Handled in Gender-Specific Treatment

There are unique gender differences in initiating substance use and developing chemical dependency, especially regarding social influences. According to a study in the Evaluation Review, “Women tend to initiate drug and alcohol use later than men but progress faster to dependence.” Additionally, “[W]omen more often report that initiation occurs within the context of sexual or interpersonal relationships, whereas men are more likely to report experimentation or peer influence as the context for drug use initiation.”

Further, there are also notable gender differences in treatment entry and engagement. The same study explains that, for men, treatment entry is most often motivated by their families’ opposition to their drug use. In contrast, women often enter treatment through self-referral due to severe mental health problems.

These examples only scratch the surface of how one’s gender can influence initial substance use, addiction development, and treatment entry. Still, understanding these differences is paramount for the success of both co-ed and gender-specific treatment programs. Social support—particularly group therapy—is central to many treatment programs. It can benefit from separating the genders when setting up groups.

Potential Concerns With Co-ed Treatment Programs

While there will always be pros and cons of any treatment program, there are some significant concerns that co-ed treatment programs may pose to an individual’s overall healing journey. As stated, group therapy is often a core element of many treatment programs. For co-ed programs, members of different genders may feel ill-equipped to place themselves in the shoes of another. This can interfere with their ability to develop empathy, compassion, and support for others.

As a result of traditional gender roles and gender stereotypes, women and men often face various obstacles that contribute to their substance use and mental health diagnoses. Consider the following concerns for both women and men:

For Women

Women share many unique life experiences that may be challenging for men in co-ed programs to relate to. Some of these life experiences include:

  • Motherhood
  • Fertility
  • Childbearing responsibilities
  • Menopause
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Heightened emotional issues

For Men

On the other hand, men share many unique life experiences that may be challenging for women in co-ed programs to relate to. Some of these life experiences include:

  • Fatherhood
  • Serving as the “protector”
  • Issues with emotional vulnerability
  • Increased competition and comparison to others
  • Issues with aggressiveness and anger

It is essential to understand that some of these concerns are shared by both men and women. However, these are just a few examples of how different gender-related life experiences can complicate the treatment and recovery process, especially for those in co-ed programs.

The Value of Gender-Specific Treatment for Lasting Recovery

There are many benefits that gender-specific treatment programs can provide for lasting sobriety and recovery. Let’s discuss some of the possible gains from participating in gender-specific treatment.

Increased Relatability Among Peers

Gender-specific treatment programs can increase relatability between peers in treatment. During group therapy and beyond, peers can discuss their shared life experiences with individuals of the same gender. They don’t need to feel worried about being judged, misunderstood, or unsupported. In turn, individuals can feel empowered to share their perspectives, beliefs, and experiences, knowing they will likely feel heard and validated.

Social support remains a significant factor in lasting success in recovery. Although the family unit can serve as a stable support system for some, others may lean in on peers to feel that necessary support. When peers in groups are of the same gender, they can feel more comfortable and encouraged to establish lasting relationships. This fosters accountability with one another.

More Effective and Specialized Treatment for Clients

Another essential benefit of gender-specific treatment is that it helps to individualize treatment to the unique gender needs and goals of a gender group. Treatment can be tailored to clients’ gender-unique emotional, relational, physical, and psychological experiences. As a result, treatment will be more effective and successful for clients.

In addition, relapse prevention can be more effective for clients in gender-specific treatment. To help clients maintain sobriety, treatment programs must curate aftercare plans highlighting useful relapse prevention strategies. Individuals of the same gender will likely experience similar substance use triggers that increase their risk of relapse long-term. Gender-specific treatment programs can address these common triggers. They’ll also emphasize gender-specific protective factors against relapse.

Gender-specific treatment consists of men-only and women-only treatment programs. These types of programs acknowledge the role that gender often plays in the development of addiction and the effectiveness of addiction treatment and recovery. Some notable benefits of gender-specific programs include increased relatability among peers and more effective treatment. Grace Recovery is dedicated to providing a safe and supportive substance-free environment for women seeking recovery from addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. We offer transitional living homes and a complete range of recovery services for women working to take control back over their lives. Our clients learn to thrive as they enter back into the world. To learn more, call (737) 237-9663.

About Author

Leah Malone

Learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings can be painful and disturbing at times. When Leah was able to see her behavior patterns and decided there was enough pain to be disturbed, she became motivated to make changes and accept the work that needed to be done to heal. She needed direction and had no clue how to heal on her own. Through a connection with God, authentic connection with others, honesty, willingness, and humility, Leah is now in recovery from addiction and trauma.

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