Gender Differences in Addiction and Treatment

No two people should receive the exact same treatment program when it comes to opioid addiction rehab. In methadone maintenance treatment, each individual will receive their own treatment program that encompasses their specific needs. Even so, it is important that aspects of a patient’s needs that are not caused by their addiction be incorporated into their program as well, specifically the needs dictated by gender. Gender can cause a considerable difference in the way addiction manifests and the way an individual needs to be treated; therefore, it must be taken into account when creating someone’s unique treatment plan.

How Gender Affects Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Men are more likely than women to have opportunities to use drugs, but men and women given an opportunity to use drugs for the first time are equally likely to do so and to progress from initial use to addiction.” While men and women are both likely to abuse and become addicted to drugs in their own ways, there are specific differences between the genders and their common addiction syndromes. Women are actually more likely to become addicted to prescription sedatives while men more often abuse marijuana and alcohol. Cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, tobacco, and heroin are consistently abused by both groups.

Other factors enter into the issue of drug abuse for each gender as well. Women are often more likely to have become addicted to drugs in order to cope with certain types of victimization and trauma. According to the NIDA, “Many life circumstances predominate in women as a group, which may require a specialized treatment approach. For example, research has shown that physical and sexual trauma followed by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is more common in drug-abusing women than in men seeking treatment.” This not only affects a woman’s addiction syndrome but also her treatment needs.

In addition, other factors may also play into gender differences in addiction treatment. Depending on where someone might fall on the gender spectrum and whether or not they are struggling with their gender identity could also affect the cause of their drug use and their needs during addiction treatment. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “LGBT populations have the highest rate of tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use,” among them transgender individuals who may sometimes use drugs as a coping mechanism. In addition, other individuals with a differing gender identity may struggle with similar issues of drug abuse and addiction that may have also began as a coping mechanism.

While there is no one gender that specifically experiences addiction with more frequency than another, it is important to understand that different genders hold predominance over certain factors associated with addiction syndromes and that these factors must be taken into account when treatment is administered.

Gender-Specific Treatment Facilities

Even with a treatment as long-established as methadone maintenance, gender-specific rehab facilities can be extremely beneficial to the wellbeing, comfort, and overall recovery of patients in addiction treatment. Especially at an inpatient program where individuals are asked to stay at the facility until their treatment is finished, patients often feel more comfortable when they are among their own gender. This is true of many women who, as discussed, are much more likely as a gender to have experienced sexual and physical trauma that led to their drug abuse and addictions, and feeling that they are in a safe place can be necessary. Other times, individuals of a certain gender may merely experience a feeling of unity by being surrounded by others of their same group while in treatment, a feeling that can be largely beneficial.

Another positive reason for gender-specific rehab centers is the common inclusion of group therapy into most programs. According to the NIDA, “Research has shown that when group therapy either is offered in conjunction with individualized drug counseling or is formatted to reflect the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy or contingency management, positive outcomes are achieved. Currently, researchers are testing conditions in which group therapy can be standardized and made more community-friendly.” One way in which this can occur is to allow patients to discuss their feelings with individuals of their same gender; patients will often feel more comfortable sharing if they are only amongst others in their same group.

Other Differences Associated with Gender and Addiction Treatment

addiction treatment pregnancy

Women might need pregnancy care in addiction treatment.

As a group, women are more likely to need pregnancy and childcare assistance when in addiction treatment, which must be taken into account for their successful rehabilitation (NIDA). Many facilities that cater to the specific needs of women also provide prenatal care and/or information for addicts and even the ability for women to bring their young children to a treatment facility with them if they have no one else to care for them. Women also experience a higher level of financial issues associated with or independent of their addictions, which highlights a need for affordable, gender-specific care.

Individuals should also be able to receive the necessary treatment of the gender they identify with and to receive treatment based on their specific needs. Certain individuals may feel that they need to be in a gender-specific treatment facility, of which there are many, but others may not. Still, gender should always be taken into account when choosing a treatment program and by the doctors, nurses, therapists, and staff who care for recovering addicts.

Why Does Gender Matter?

If you have experienced specific issues in your addiction syndrome that are tied to your gender, it is important that you receive the treatment that adequately caters to your needs. In addition, comfort is extremely important to recovery, and individuals who are comfortable in their rehab facility are more likely to stay for the necessary amount of time and to therefore experience better outcomes. According to the NIDA, “Whether a patient stays in treatment depends on factors associated with both the individual and the program,” and because drop out rates can be high, it is important for addiction rehab facilities to cater to the needs of the patient. Successful programs must be appropriate to all of the patient’s most important characteristics, chief among them ethnicity, age, culture, and gender, all of which may help shape an individual’s addiction syndrome as well as their treatment.

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