Statistically, men are more likely to be diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD) than women. However, women account for about a third of people diagnosed with SUD. While there are many similarities between how different genders navigate their recovery journies, there are some key differences that can prevent women and other minority genders from seeking help. The learned role of gender implemented in different cultures can shape a person’s perspective and impact their recovery needs. For instance, a female-identifying person in treatment might focus on various aspects of her recovery more or less than a male-identifying person or minority gender.
Gender roles are created from culture. Our environments dictate appropriate and inappropriate ways to perform gender. This may include how a person looks, acts, and navigates the world. Different genders face different types of stigma. For instance, toxic masculinity primarily shapes how men see themselves. Likewise, feminine passivity may shape the way women see themselves.
SUD in Men vs. Women
Some forms of SUD are more common in women than men and vice versa. Studies of the role of gender in SUD diagnosis have shown the following:
- Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is more prevalent in men
- SUD diagnosis for misusing sedatives such as anti-anxiety and sleep medications is more prevalent in women
- Heroin use is more prevalent in men, but in recent years, rates of women’s heroin use have gone up
- Women often have a shorter history of using substances before seeking treatment because they tend to quickly become dependent after initial use
- Generally, romantic relationships tend to affect men’s recovery more positively and women’s recovery more negatively
- Mood, anxiety, and depressive disorders are more prevalent in women
- Women, especially transgender women, are more likely to have a history of trauma
- Relapse is less likely for women than men
- Women typically enter treatment with more severe medical, behavioral, psychological, and social problems
How the Role of Gender Effects SUD Treatment
The stigma connected to SUD and the expectations of womanhood makes it more difficult for women to seek treatment. Women tend to experience more shame associated with the stigmatization of SUD, which can discourage them from seeking treatment. This could be caused by a need for perfectionism as a mother or as a woman trying to further her career. In our current culture, there tends to be higher scrutiny of women’s faults than men’s.
Many mothers may also be hesitant to seek treatment due to their family duties. They might be overwhelmed by the responsibilities of motherhood and feel like they can’t afford to attend a recovery facility and leave their families for a month or more of inpatient treatment. For this reason, some mothers will begin programs but drop out of them early to attend to their children. Mothers may also be concerned about their children being taken away from them if they decide to enter treatment.
Recognizing the Role of Gender in Treatment
Some women might feel more comfortable receiving treatment in a women-centered program or from female mental health professionals. Part of recovery treatment focuses on peer relationship building. Forming bonds with people of the same gender can provide certain support that a person of the opposite gender may not. For instance, women’s withdrawal symptoms can become worse during their menstrual cycles. This might be something a woman would find more satisfying to talk about with other women.
There are also specific approaches that are important in treating women with SUD. For instance, since women are more likely to have more severe mood, depression, and anxiety disorders, they must seek help from facilities that provide treatment for co-occurring disorders.
Women are also more likely to be influenced by close friends and family members. This makes it important for their treatment to include an analysis of their relationships. A holistic and trauma-informed approach is also recommended. Trauma-informed approaches can be helpful to anyone’s recovery, but women especially need this extra support since they are more likely to be victims of trauma. Furthermore, women’s identities tend to be more wrapped up in motherhood. Therefore, family roles and relationships are important to address during treatment.
Role of Gender in Toxic Beliefs
Culture can influence our beliefs, which can make its way into our thoughts and behaviors. Current cultural beliefs are reinforced by advertisements, media, and gender policing or judgment placed on people who don’t perform their gender “correctly.” For male-presenting people, this often includes beliefs of toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity refers to the belief that men should be competitive, aggressive, rational, and non-emotional to uphold patriarchal values and maintain power over minority genders.
These beliefs can be specifically destructive for men seeking treatment for SUD. It might make men more resistant to open up about their emotions. These types of beliefs could also lead to violent or other unproductive methods of communication. Conversely, women might learn feminine passivity from a culture that expects women to be nurturing, accommodating, and dependent. This can make it difficult for women to leave toxic relationships and put up healthy boundaries. Unlearning toxic masculinity and feminine passivity can be important for a person to have a successful recovery.
Gender identity can shape your recovery treatment needs. Looking for a treatment center that caters to your gender can help you maintain a successful recovery. Restoration Recovery Centers respects you as the complex person you are with various gender, cultural, and mental health needs. We offer holistic treatment for both men and women. We treat co-occurring disorders and provide trauma-based therapies, and our mental health professionals will work closely with you to create a treatment plan that caters to your recovery goals and needs. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, call (888) 290-0925 to learn how Restoration Recovery Centers can help you restore your life’s purpose and heal from addiction.