Men and women experience drug addiction, alcoholism, and treatment very differently.
Gender plays a role in substance abuse and rehab in the following ways:
1. Effects of Drugs and Alcohol
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, has found that women who abuse substances progress to addiction more rapidly than men, are more likely to die at a younger age than men, and are less likely to ask for and receive help for substance abuse than men who use drugs and alcohol.
The impact substances have on the human body are greater when the person is female, and cause greater medical complications, than when the person is male.
2. Reasons for Initial Substance Use
Men who are treated for addiction and alcoholism tend to blame external factors for their substance problems. Addiction and alcoholism are often attributed to a negative life event, difficulty at work, or other sets of circumstances that appear to be out of the man’s control.
In contrast, for women, the accountability for substance abuse is more often put solely on the woman; the fault is purely her own. Women view themselves as bad, immoral, or crazy when abusing drugs and alcohol, creating shame and guilt that are difficult to release.
3. Treatment Admission
The number of men entering drug and alcohol rehab programs outweigh the number of women by 2 to 1, according to SAMHSA. Of all the treatment admissions each year, 68% are male and 32% are female addicts or alcoholics looking to make major life changes.
4. Rationale for Seeking Treatment
For men to admit that there is a problem with drugs and alcohol, and to actually enter into a rehab program, life consequences must be negatively impacting work. In some cases, medical scares will also lead men to seek treatment.
For women, entering into treatment is more about the family and interpersonal consequences of drinking and drugging. Quite often women are the primary caregivers for children, so when a wife and mother are no longer able to care for a household and children, or a marriage is strained, the reasons for getting help have outweighed the benefits of escaping and numbing out.
5. Effective Treatment Approaches
For men, direct confrontation can be extremely effective in breaking down the denial that keeps millions of addicts and alcoholics sick. Accepting one’s condition, whether labeled as an illness or not, is the first step is healing. Being confronted helps men admit the need for help.
Quite oppositely, women do not react well to direct confrontation. The technique can reinforce shame and guilt that are important for women to work through in rehab, which is better facilitated by supportive measures.
6. Life in Recovery
Women are more likely to relapse than men, says Jill Becker, PhD., professor of psychology at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, so even when great efforts are made to get clean and sober, females who complete rehab have lower rates of sustained recovery than men.
Because of the differences between men and women in addiction, alcoholism, and treatment, gender-specific programs are being used in treatment centers around the world.