By Patrice Alexander, LPC, CPCS
Addiction is a powerful disease in which both men and women experience a multitude of negative consequences before seeking treatment. Research has shown that women who suffer from a substance use disorder often face more barriers when it comes to entering treatment than their male counterparts. One of the major reasons it is more difficult for women to enter treatment is the stigma associated with being a woman and having a drinking or drug problem.
Our society’s double standard inflicts far more shame on a woman who has an addiction than on a man (Covington, 2002). In today’s society, it is more socially acceptable for men to reward themselves with alcohol or drugs after a hard day at work. However, women who reward themselves the same way differ from societal views and expectations of being “lady-like” or the caretaker role that they often fulfill. Women who are mothers can have a deeper level of denial because of the fear of being viewed as a “bad mother” or the fear of losing custody of their children.
Women who have a substance use disorder are also more likely to suffer from trauma and unhealthy relationships, frequently blaming themselves for “being under the influence” and not being able to protect themselves. Likewise, being a victim of trauma and unhealthy relationships are often the reason why women turn to using drugs and alcohol to cope with the pain and shame.
Offering gender-separate and gender-specific treatment is MARR’s approach to meeting the needs of women and men who suffer from the disease of addiction. In early recovery, it is essential that women feel safe in treatment and share their traumatic experiences. Through Therapeutic Community and being gender-separate and gender-specific, they begin to heal from shame. I believe it is much more difficult for women and men to experience the level of openness and honesty that is instrumental to recovery if they are in mixed gender groups. Women, especially, need the support of other women while sharing their story, along with skilled female clinicians to help them on their journey toward being happy, joyous, and free from the shame that the disease of addiction has burdened them with.
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment: Addressing the Specific Needs of Women. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 51. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 09-4426, 2009.
Covington, S. (2002). Helping Women Recover: Creating Gender-Responsive Treatment. The Handbook of Addiction Treatment for Women: Theory and Practice
S.L.A. Straussner & S. Brown, (Eds.), Jossey-Bass.