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Gender-Specific Treatment for Women with Alcohol Dependency

Alcoholism is not a mental disorder. It has nothing to do with a woman’s morals or personal willpower. It is not affected by her social, economic, or educational background. Alcoholism does not discriminate by race, culture, age, or sexual orientation. Alcoholism is a disease that robs women of their futures. It destroys families and the lives of women’s loved ones; and it robs communities of the fabric that weaves them together. Today, there are more than 12 million chemically dependent women in the United States; more than half of them are alcoholics.

More and more research now shows that gender-specific recovery programs are especially important in the treatment of women with alcoholism. For the most part, female alcoholics have very different issues than men. For instance, many exhibit more depression and suicidal tendencies. Women alcoholics may suffer from greater rates of anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders and post traumatic stress disorder. They also have a higher rate of exposure to domestic violence, whether in their childhood or current relationship. For many women, alcohol is the way to medicate to avoid these issues. For the female alcoholic to have a significant chance at recovery, she must first uncover the reasons she drinks.

Although co-ed treatment programs have proven to be successful for many women, gender-specific programs for women exclusively are growing. Why? Because they provide a safe environment where a woman can address her alcoholism without the shame and stigma usually felt in a co-ed environment. In a gender-specific setting, the woman can be more open about her past, her relationships, and her feelings without worrying what the men in the group are thinking. She can also focus on her own needs and on rebuilding her life rather than trying to take the role as caretaker, which seems prevalent in many co-ed treatment programs.

The real advantage of gender-specific treatment programs is that they allow a woman a secure and nurturing environment where she can learn about herself, why she drinks, why she avoids, and why she hides her addiction in shame. Here she can also learn how to care for herself first so that she can be a healthier mother, wife, sister, daughter, employee, and community member. Only when a woman finds the core of her emotional and spiritual self can she realize the true potential of a long and happy life in recovery.

Why Gender Specific Treatment for Women?

  • Women tend to hide their alcohol and drug abuse and suffer more shame for it (Blume, 1990; Van Den Bergh, 1991, Woodhouse, 1992)
  • Studies suggest that women have different treatment issues and needs than men and benefit from programs that are gender-specific and address these needs.
  • Women are under-represented in treatment programs. While alcohol rates are greater in men by 2:1, the ratio of men in treatment to women is 4:1.
  • 8 in 10 women in treatment at Residence XII suffer from some form of trauma or have domestic violence in their history.