A person’s sex can play a role in their recovery process. Women deal with certain issues in life and recovery that are unique to their sex. As a result, they may benefit from treatment that occurs in a female-only environment.

In a women-only rehab, treatment is delivered by female therapists, doctors, and other staff members. All the other clients in the program are also women.

Gender and Substance Abuse

Gender can have a profound effect on substance use disorders. It can influence how a person’s addiction plays out, how fast it occurs, and even motivations to get well. Per a 2014 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), gender can even influence a person’s drug of choice.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that women with substance use disorders progress at a different timeline than men. Things get more complicated when it comes to women who have children or are pregnant. They may delay or refuse treatment out of fear of losing custody of their children.

Additionally, SAMHSA found a few differences in how gender influences a person’s addiction by collecting data from rehab centers.

  • Adolescent and teen girls (ages 12 to 17) reported alcohol use as their main problem drug more than teen boys (21.7 percent versus 10.5 percent).
  • In people age 65 or older, women were three times more likely to report using prescription pain medication than men.
  • In 2011, 33.1 percent of admissions to rehab centers were women at 609,000 compared to 66.9 percent male admissions at 1.23 million.

Differences Between Men and Women

In a paper published in September 2016, Current Treatment Options in Psychiatry stated that rehab programs should consider gender during treatment because:

  • When using opioids, women tend to progress faster into their addiction than men.
  • Laboratory studies confirm that women who are misusing a substance report more anxiety and stress than men who misuse substances.
  • When under stress, women who misuse alcohol tend to have more intense cravings for it than men.
  • Estrogen plays a part in cocaine addiction. It may influence a woman’s transition from using it as a recreational drug to being addicted to it.
  • Research shows there is not enough data on how drugs influence women who are going through pregnancy, puberty, or menopause.

Additionally, Healthline has described how women and men with alcohol misuse issues must consider their biological differences. Women who drink are less likely to receive help because of pressure to deny they have problems and their role as caretakers.

Biological differences between men and women also mean that women are more likely to get cirrhosis with less alcohol use than men.

Treatment can be a crucial way to prevent these potential health risks.

Themes Of Women-Only Rehab Programs

A 2009 study published on Psychiatric Services stated that up until the 1970s, it was common for rehabilitation centers to ignore the different needs of women and men. The women’s movement did a lot to point out these differences.

In the 1980s, the first programs began targeting pregnant women as the crack epidemic meant that there was plenty of publicity regarding women who use this substance during pregnancy.

A few common themes of women-focused treatment are:

  • Treatment availability is based on what clients want.
  • Treatment is provided by women for women.
  • The environment is more comfortable for women who have faced various traumas in life.

Stigma Around Women and Substance Abuse

Women-centered treatment can open doors for women who would normally avoid treatment. They may be more likely to seek help from an environment that is attuned to their unique needs.

There is still a lot of stigma related to substance misuse in women. Female-only centers break down much of this.

  • Women who misuse substances may be seen as unfit to be mothers. The truth is that many mothers struggle with substance abuse. Rehab helps them to get sober so that they can be better mothers to their children.
  • Women with substance use disorders may be seen as promiscuous. In a female-only environment, women may feel more comfortable discussing their past experiences in addiction. Both sexes struggle with poor decision-making while under the influence. Once sober and living in recovery, they can make more sound decisions in all aspects of life.
  • Women who seek treatment may be ostracized or risk damaging relationships that are important to them. In a women-only rehab, clients can see they are not alone. They can learn how to improve communication and repair damage in their relationships.
  • Women have unique roles as caretakers. They are often the primary caretakers for children or elderly family members. In rehab, they can discuss the stress of this and learn how to best manage their role in recovery.

In some cultures, it may be preferable for women to seek treatment or help in an environment that is not mixed with men. Psychiatric Services does not provide an exact number, but it does mention that women’s-only rehab facilities have multiplied during the past years, especially during the 1990s and 2000s.

How Female-Only Treatment Might Be Different

In June 2016, UN Women published a press release explaining how drug and alcohol treatment can benefit women. The organization noted that:

  • Men are more likely to traffic drugs.
  • Most national policies about drug and alcohol use around the world focus on men’s needs.
  • Around the world, one out of three substance users is a woman.
  • Worldwide, one out of five people in treatment is a woman.

Though this may not be much of an issue in some parts of the world, UN Women also reported the following obstacles faced by women who need treatment:

  • Limited access to internet
  • Judicial systems that often doubt their testimonies
  • Stigma when seeking help for substance misuse
  • Increased likelihood of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections
  • Increased risk of being exploited or experiencing violence

Treatment in programs created just for women might better address substance abuse issues in this demographic, but it does not mean female-only treatment is the answer for all women.

SAMHSA states that more research is needed to figure out who might benefit most from gender-specific treatment, so it is difficult to say whether or not some women may be hindered by entering a women’s-only facility. So far, data shows that women-centered treatment might provide more benefits than issues.

Different Motivations

Women and men have different motivations when it comes to staying in treatment for substance misuse. Among male and female clients at inpatient addiction treatment programs:

  • Women were generally motivated to stay in treatment for their families, while men feared losing their jobs.
  • Women were more likely to finish treatment if they were married and living with their intimate partners.
  • Women with higher incomes were also more likely to stay in treatment.


The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that treatment goals include:

  • To stop clients from engaging in possible criminal activity
  • To help clients become productive members of society
  • To disrupt the influence of addiction in clients’ lives

It is true that relapse rates can hamper some people from receiving treatment. After all, why try something if you are going to start using again?

But NIDA states that relapse is common to various chronic conditions. Those in substance abuse treatment tend to relapse at rates of 40 to 60 percent, which is similar to relapse rates with other conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.

Individualized Care

Women who seek treatment at a gender-specific center should know many variables can contribute to the success of their treatment.

The treatment should be individualized to the person’s needs. It isn’t enough to just seek care at a female-only facility. The treatment program must be tailored further to address the woman’s specific needs in recovery.

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