Should My Addiction Treatment Program Be Gender-Specific?

‘Should my addiction treatment program be gender-specific?’  It’s one of the questions you might ask if you’re looking at addiction treatment programs or support options for substance use disorder. As addiction treatment providers, we always want to offer the best treatment programs for our clients’ recovery. It’s important that we look at what works and what we can do better.

Research published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment states that “greater effectiveness has been demonstrated by treatment programs that address problems and issues common among substance-abusing women, such as childcare issues, services for pregnant or postpartum women, or histories of trauma and/ or domestic violence.”[1] While research in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs concludes that appropriate methodologies need to be developed to properly analyze the effectiveness of gender-responsive treatment.[2] So, the question remains: Will it make a difference if my addiction treatment program or substance abuse support program is gender-specific?

What Does Gender-Specific Treatment Look Like?

Gender-specific treatment programs are created to treat only males or females in a specific program. Some reasons why centres state that they use this style is to remove distractions from the opposite sex, it allows patients to feel more comfortable discussing certain issues and experiences. Essentially, the treatment program allows males or females to focus on certain factors or experiences that they share during their treatment program.

Socioeconomic factors related to their male and female genders have an effect on treatment completion rates and duration.[3] It seems women are more vulnerable to stigma than men when seeking treatment because of socioeconomic factors such as being a parent of young children. Women’s addictions are often associated with violence and sexual abuse and/ or risky sexual behaviour. On the other hand men’s addictions are usually associated with legal problems.

What the Edgewood Health Network Offers

Bill Caldwell, Extended Care Supervisor & Chemical Dependency Counsellor at the Edgewood Treatment Centre shares why and how Edgewood provides a co-ed or mixed-gender program for clients. “The decision to make Edgewood a coed program was made very early in the planning stages and is one of the things that makes us a little bit different than many of the other treatment providers. We do this for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the decision that addiction does not discriminate between genders, so neither do we. It also affords some options for therapy and growth that otherwise might not be available. As an example many of our patients have never learned how to have healthy platonic relationships with the opposite sex, and now have a chance to do that in a supportive setting.”

Bill Caldwell shares that there are challenges that come with a mixed gender addiction treatment program. “Coed treatment comes with its own set of challenges. Inappropriate relationships are the obvious shortfall: when we first opened our extended care program. We found quickly that some distance between the male and female residences was a very good idea, especially at night. It also creates some interesting dichotomies: while we do want to encourage our patients to learn more about healthy interactions, we also know that there is a different connection that happens when seeking support and assistance from same-sex peers.”

Finding a Healthy Balance

So the question now is what’s the best choice for treatment? Bill Caldwell believes a balanced approach works best. “We have found that combining the best of both worlds seems to be the winning approach, and we accomplish this by running a variety of gender specific groups alongside our coed programming and groups. These include groups focusing on sexual addiction, trauma, and general men’s/women’s group therapy, but it can also mean that we adapt existing groups to tailor to the needs of the patients. Sometimes we have men or women tell their patient story just to peers of the same gender, especially if their story includes details that would best be supported by same-sex groups.”

According to Bill Caldwell, Edgewood’s balanced approach creates the best possibilities for our clients to recover from drug and alcohol addictions and sexual compulsive behaviour, “There has been a lot of research done about the similarities and differences between men and women in treatment and recovery and the corresponding importance of respecting those similarities and differences. We believe that we have struck a balance that works very well for our patient’s growth and healing, and we will continue to develop new ways of individualizing our treatment process to create the best possible outcomes.”

At the Edgewood Health Network, we support customized treatment and evidence-based research. It’s important to us that you have all the information to make an educated decision about what program to choose. Whether you prefer a mixed program or gender-specific, the Edgewood Health Network has a range of options for you to choose from across Canada. To learn more about our programs visit our website or call us 1-800-683-0111.

Sources:
Brady, K. T., & Randall, C. L. (1999). Gender differences in substance use disorders. Psychiatr Clin North Am, 22(2), 241-252.
Fattore, L., Melis, M., Fadda, P., & Fratta, W. (2014). Sex differences in addictive disorders. Front Neuroendocrinol, 35(3), 272-284. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2014.04.003
[1] Prendergast, M. L., Messina, N. P., Hall, E. A., & Warda, U. S. (2011). The relative effectiveness of women-only and mixed-gender treatment for substance-abusing women. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 40(4), 336-348. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2010.12.001

[2] Grella, C. E. (2008). From generic to gender-responsive treatment: Changes in social policies, treatment services, and outcomes of women in substance abuse treatment. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 40(sup5), 327-343. doi:10.1080/02791072.2008.10400661

[3] Grella, C. E. (2008). From generic to gender-responsive treatment: Changes in social policies, treatment services, and outcomes of women in substance abuse treatment. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 40(sup5), 327-343. doi:10.1080/02791072.2008.10400661