Women and men develop, experience, and recover from addiction differently. Because of this, we have established separate residential facilities at Cherry Street for Women and John Street for Men. We also provide specialty programs in our Outpatient Center which may designate separate genders.
All the clinical experience and modern gender research points to one thing. That is women and men should be treated for their addictions separately. Men and women differ in their pathways to addiction. And men and women have different reasons for entering treatment, different needs within the treatment continuum, and different goals for recovery.
LGBTQ+ Integrated Addiction Treatment
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), LGBTQ+ individuals have higher rates of substance misuse and disorders than those who identify as heterosexual. Factors that affect substance use may include LGBTQ+ culture, stigma, violence and harassment, and co-occurring mental health issues. Providing a safe space to discuss and affirm sexuality, gender identity, and their parallels to addiction is integral to the Sanford treatment model. Though we identify as a gender specific treatment facility, we also treat individuals who are gender nonconforming.
The following illustrates why gender specific treatment is most effective for substance use disorders:
Addiction treatment is often the first opportunity for women and men to begin to establish sober friendships and work on relationship skills. While in active addiction, these skills may have been lost. Group therapy sessions, outside meetings, and community outreach allows those in treatment to establish safe healthy relationships and find support without distractions.
Healing the effects of trauma is an important part of addiction recovery. Psychological trauma is damage to the mind that occurs as a result of an extremely distressing event. Trauma is often the result of overwhelming stress, or the inability to process the emotions involved with the negative experience. Men and women respond to physical, emotional, and sexual trauma differently. Trauma is a recurring theme in addiction treatment. Many of our clients tell us they feel most comfortable processing traumatic experiences in a gender specific environment.
There are differences in the pathways to addiction between men and women. Women develop substance use disorders in less time than men, it is called “telescoping”. The health related consequences of substance use are more common in women. Women are more susceptible to heart disease, liver damage, infectious diseases and breast cancer. And women have unique issues associated with reproduction and pregnancy. Men tend to experience greater withdrawal symptoms than women. Of course, biological processes are influenced by social, cultural, and individual factors.
5. Stigma and Shame
Men and women both experience stigma and shame when it comes to substance use disorders. Women have more barriers to treatment and are less likely to enter addiction treatment than men. However, when they do enter treatment, gender-specific models are often a motivator. Perhaps because the stigma for women, especially older women or those with young children, still seems to be greater than that of men. This may be because of the more traditional women’s roles of childbearing, child rearing, and societal mores. Men face a different set of barriers. In the more traditional roles, men fear not being able to provide financial support or appearing as weak.
6. Safety and Lack of Distractions
For those who have experienced the trials of addiction, the need for sanctuary is vital.Our clients say they feel more comfortable discussing personal, even embarrassing issues within the same gender responsive environment.
8. Family Responsibilities
Men and women have different family responsibilities and relationship dynamics. And the stigma associated with addiction might be different for men and women within the family system. Addiction wounds all the members of the family and relationships must be restructured. Women may have more acute responsibility and guilt regarding their children. A gender specific program for women focuses simultaneously on the needs of the woman and her children. Men may feel they have “let the family down”. A gender specific program for men emphasizes emotional expression and personal self-sufficiency. This allows the family system to be adjusted through the recovery process. Atypical or non-traditional family mores are also accommodated within our programming.
Men and women communicate differently. And they listen differently. When men and women are in co-ed groups women tend to “nurture” and men tend to want to “fix things”. With gender specific treatment, men have an opportunity to practice listening and emoting. Women are given a forum to be heard. And to build strength in their convictions.
Certainly, the goal of recovery is not exclusion or complete independence. Nor is it cookie-cutter. We want to prepare our clients to go back to their “real life” situations. Understanding that men and women are still influenced by gender roles and norms, but equally understanding that looking at each individual’s unique identity is the best way to prepare them for long-term recovery. We want our clients to be inspired about their new life and bolstered by a healthy sense of self-worth.