Gender-Specific Addiction Treatment

Gender-Specific Addiction Treatment

Addiction is no respecter of persons, affecting men and women alike. There are, however, real distinctions between the sexes when it comes to prevalence, presentation, psychosocial comorbidity and even treatment.

Men are twice as likely to be involved in drug misuse and three times more likely to abuse alcohol, according to National Institute on Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Yet treatment has not addressed these gender differences. The Psychiatric Times reports that there has been a growing trend over the past decade and a half toward gender-specific treatment for alcohol and substance abuse, so that now 40 percent of substance abuse treatment facilities offer gender-specific treatment.

Traditional treatment for men with addiction has taken a somewhat confrontational approach. Recently, treatment centers, while holding true to the 12 Step philosophy, have moved toward a less assertive posture. That is because in the past, male-specific issues that contribute to addictive behavior were not addressed. Issues such as communication, isolation and anger strongly affect men struggling with addictions.

What it Means to Be a Man

Culturally, men are expected – some would say encouraged – to bottle up emotions, especially those which are labeled “womanish.” Cultural norms indicate that men should hold in grief or pain but are free to express anger. Men perceive that their sense of personal worth is directly connected to their position of power and that self-reliance is an ultimate measure of manhood.

Drug treatment centers report that when men entering treatment are asked to describe being male, the adjectives used are: isolated, lonely, aggressive, armor-plated, expected to perform-provide-protect. These reveal that the psychosocial influences for men are particular to the gender. Many men begin using alcohol or drugs in order to find comfort or escape from these difficult emotions, which over time progresses into addiction.

A Safe Place for Men with Addiction

More residential drug treatment facilities now seek to create an environment that is safe for men to examine how emotions influence addictive behavior. Part of creating a safe environment is using an all-male staff. Another component is education through male-oriented modules.

Not every drug treatment center uses the same approach but the following modules are indicative of the type of therapy employed in male addiction facilities:

  1. Examination of how society defines being male and what stereotypes result.
  2. Examination of childhood and family of origin influences that may have contributed to feelings of isolation. This includes looking at the role of fatherhood.
  3. Examination of the difference between feeling anger and inappropriately expressing anger as aggression. Men often mistake rage for anger, making it useful for men to consider how power and control issues affect relationships. It is helpful for men to realize that anger is actually a secondary manifestation of fear and shame.
  4. Examination of sexual values and beliefs can help men see how and why promiscuity and addiction often go together and what healthy sexuality looks like.
  5. Most 12-Step philosophy based centers emphasize spirituality. Spirituality is promoted as a means of connecting to life versus addiction which is a disengagement from life. These sessions encourage men to trust something outside of themselves.

Men and women experience addiction in different ways. Providing unique drug treatment facilities designed with those differences in mind can speed both the bonding and healing processes that recovery centers seek to create. Addiction damages a person’s sense of self. Rebuilding a man’s self-perception can be aided by providing gender-specific addiction treatment.

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