Substance use affects both men and women; however, it affects them differently. Men are more likely to use illicit drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, and women are more likely to use a stimulant or a drug meant to manage anxiety. Both genders come to substance use therapy with different histories and needs.
Addiction is defined as a chronic yet treatable disease of the brain that can manifest in several ways that might cause long-term physical, psychological and financial ramifications. Even though men and women can develop a substance use disorder to drugs and alcohol, it does not mean that each type of therapy will equally benefit both genders.
Addiction is a disease that can be influenced by different factors, including genetics, repeat substance use, exposure to trauma, and co-occurring disorders. Mental health disorders affect both genders, and some, such as depression and anxiety, can affect the genders differently. Reputable substance use treatment centers treat both the substance use and the co-occurring mental health disorder simultaneously.
However, not all substance use therapies are best for a mixed group of people. Gender-specific therapy groups can be quite beneficial for both males and females equally, as both genders may approach therapy in different ways and have different needs.
Before deciding if gender-specific therapy might be the best therapy type for you, read on to find out what the pros and cons are.
One of the pros of gender-specific therapy is the ability to talk to your therapist openly about the cause of your addiction. Some people may feel awkward and uncomfortable relaying a situation that started using substances in a group with both genders.
Women start using drugs at younger ages and develop substance use disorders with profound motivation to use drugs, and they have different reasons for relapse, as reported by the Psychiatric Times.
Trauma and trauma disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as experienced by women and men, can strongly influence the person toward a gender-specific therapy group or a therapist. Someone who was subjected to sexual or physical assault by the opposite sex may not want to be mixed gender group therapy or want to have one-on-one sessions with a therapist of the opposite sex.
One can most likely focus solely on themselves and their recovery when in gender-specific therapy. Distractions, such as feeling insecure in a group with either gender or being concerned their feelings won’t be taken seriously by the other gender, can hurt the progress someone is struggling to make in therapy. Gender-specific therapy groups can help create trust bonds with the others, foster camaraderie, and provide needed support.
Many substance use treatment programs, including those at Pathway to Hope, provide individualized treatments for each person in addiction therapy. Each person’s plan changes as the person progresses in therapy. Gender-specific therapy can be a strong part of a person’s individual treatment plan. Men and women see and handle situations differently, and their therapy should mirror that. Those with specific gender-related causes for substance use may benefit from therapy with men or women only.
Another positive take on gender-specific therapy is that males and females respond to drugs and alcohol differently. They also respond to substance use treatment differently. Something as basic as not having childcare when in therapy can deter a woman from attending sessions. A women’s-only group therapy session may have childcare protocols in place.
Men-only sessions can be useful for males who have a history of abuse, struggle with PTSD or combat-related symptoms, have taken harder drugs, like heroin or cocaine. Also, men are taught from early on that they need to be strong, independent, invulnerable, and not weak. It might seem contradictory that more men than women seek and accept substance use disorder treatment, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in this report.
While it may seem like gender-specific therapy might be the best way to go, there are some cons to consider. Group therapy often includes both genders and people from different backgrounds and histories, from which the participant can hear and learn from. Group therapy can be effective for that reason.
A coed therapy session can help the person with a substance use disorder deal with situations they could encounter when therapy is completed and they are out in the real world. Coed therapy groups can share and practice what they may have to contend with when they are home.
Gender-related issues can be worked through in coed groups. Women might better understand where men come from in the way they think, act and react, and vice versa. Group therapy is useful in helping both males and females learn to deal with real-life issues in a positive, healthy, and constructive way.
Misconceptions about females and males could be focused on in gender-specific therapy. Misconceptions of any kind are not helpful to either gender when someone is working toward becoming addiction-free. Female only groups may lean more toward male behavior, actions and reactions, than what the underlying cause for addiction is. Male only groups can also lean more toward why females think, act and react the way they do.
Substance use treatment engages different types of therapies that might benefit you on your journey to recovery. Group and individual therapy are standard therapies that can help both females and males. You might find that a same-gender therapist is best for individual therapy, and either a male or female is best for group therapy.
The world is composed of different people with different personalities. You might not feel like you connect with your therapist, whether male or female. Or, you may connect with them very nicely. You may feel that you will progress further if you are only in gender-specific therapy.
Every person in substance use treatment is unique in every aspect. The Society for the Study of Addiction states, “Male and female substance abusers report different histories and courses for their disorders and display different needs and characteristics in treatment settings.”
Coed therapy may help you prepare better for your life outside of treatment. You might gain valuable insight about dealing with everyday stresses, managing triggers and cravings, and preventing a relapse. You might also learn how the opposite sex thinks and acts, which can be enlightening in everyday life.
Studies indicate that the effectiveness of gender-specific programs can be just as effective as mixed-gender programs. However, the studies suggest that men and women who have PTSD might benefit more from gender-specific therapy.
Some people might find gender-specific therapy the best fit for their needs. Others might not. What type of therapy works for you is the one in which you will regularly attend, participate in, and ultimately succeed in ending substance use.
NIDA. (2020, May 28). Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/substance-use-in-women/sex-gender-differences-in-substance-use
Psychiatric Times. (2018, November 30) Gender Differences in Addiction: Clinical Implications. Thibaut, F. MD, PhD. from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/gender-differences-addiction-clinical-implications
SAMHSA. (2013) Addressing the Specific Behavioral Health Needs of Men. A Treatment Improvement Protocol. TIP. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK144290/
Society for the Study of Addiction. (2006, January 24) Addiction. Treatment of substance abusers: single or mixed gender programs? Hodgins, D., El-Guebaly, N., Addington, J. from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1360-0443.1997.tb02949.x
NIAAA. Publications. (n.d.) Gender and Use of Substance Abuse Treatment Services. Green, C. Ph.D., M.P.H. from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh291/55-62.htm