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Rehab for Women: Drug & Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Finding addiction treatment that treats the whole person and meets your unique needs, including personal preferences like a gender-specific facility, may play a role in treatment effectiveness.1

Men’s or women’s only rehab facilities offer the same levels of care with services and programs tailored to the unique needs of each gender. Some people may feel more comfortable in a gender-specific setting.

If you identify as female and are seeking help for an addiction to drugs or alcohol, this article will help you understand what to expect from a women’s only rehab program and how to find the help you need.

How Do Substances Affect Women Differently?

There are numerous risk factors for addiction for both genders; however, certain substances can affect women differently than men due to biological differences and/or the different cultural expectations placed on women.3, 5

Biological differences in female body structure and chemistry can cause women to absorb and metabolize substances differently than men, particularly alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepines.5 After drinking the same amount of alcohol, a woman’s blood alcohol level is likely to be higher, and the effects of alcohol usually impact women more quickly and for longer durations than men.5

With opioids, women are more likely than men to experience greater sedative properties and respiratory depression. Benzodiazepines typically have a longer duration of action with women than they do with men due to larger fat stores in females versus males.8

Women are less likely than men to use alcohol and almost all illicit types of drugs; however, women are just as likely as men to develop a substance use disorder.9 Women often report using smaller amounts of a substance for shorter time periods before their substance use progresses into dependence and addiction.3

Additional differences that can affect substance use and risk factors include:3

  • Sex hormones may make women more sensitive to certain substances.
  • Issues related to intimate partner violence that put women at increased risk for substance use.
  • Being more likely to have drug cravings or relapse after treatment.
  • Increased effects on heart and blood vessels.
  • Different effects on the brain than men.

Addiction Treatment Needs for Women

No matter what type of treatment program you choose, whether inpatient or outpatient, short-term (28-30 days) or long-term (60 days, 90 days or longer), it’s important that your treatment plan be tailored to your individual needs and continually evaluated and adjusted as needed.1 This is especially important because the recovery process for women may progress differently than for men.3 Services and other characteristics to consider if you are looking for a women’s only rehab program include:2, 3, 4

  • Medical care like gynecological, family planning, and treatment for infectious diseases.
  • Programs to support pregnant women through withdrawal, which include medications like methadone and buprenorphine.
  • Prenatal care and additional family support.
  • Supervised withdrawal that accounts for the potential of more intense symptoms.
  • Understanding of a woman’s metabolism and how that may affect the use of certain treatments.
  • Childcare support.
  • Treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which women are more likely to suffer from.
  • Screening and support for intimate partner violence.
  • Support for unique issues that face women of color.
  • Whole-person treatment that addresses physical, psychological, vocational, social, and legal needs.
  • Treatment and therapies that help boost women’s self-esteem.

Why Women May Avoid Addiction Treatment

There are fewer women and more men in treatment for substance use disorders. However, women who are in treatment often have more severe medical, behavioral, psychological, and social problems, and this is likely because women’s progression from first using a substance to developing dependence is much quicker than it is for men.2 In studies on treatment outcomes, women who receive treatment for a substance use disorder often fare better than men.10

Some may find women-only programs to better meet their needs and reduce some of the barriers to getting treatment.10 Women may be reluctant to enter addiction treatment for several reasons. In particular, the burden of balancing work and home responsibilities with going to treatment may feel overwhelming.2 A few other reasons women may not seek treatment include the following:2, 4

  • Stigma related to getting addiction treatment
  • Lack of partner or family support
  • Lack of childcare
  • Financial hardship
  • Pregnancy and fear of losing children to authorities
  • Limited time to attend treatment

Women who choose to enter treatment, whether a co-ed program or a women’s only rehab program, will still experience similar treatment methods. Research suggests that gender-specific treatment is no more or less effective than programs with both men and women.10

Treatment Methods Used at Women’s Rehabs

The methods used at women’s only rehab programs are typically like those used in other addiction treatment programs. However, special focus may be placed on catering to the needs of women and include addressing issues related to pre- and post-natal care.4

Common programs and services found at women’s rehabs may include:

  • Individual and group therapy. Drug and alcohol treatment centers often use several methods of evidence-based psychotherapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help people understand reasons for substance misuse, and identify and cope with situations that are likely to result in a relapse. Recovery programs for women often address gender-related issues in individual therapy sessions. Group sessions typically consist of only females.
  • Community support. The women in these programs often experience a shared sense of community that allows them to better understand each other’s problems. This environment also allows them to discuss their experiences more openly, which may be more difficult for those in treatment. It can also help to establish a support network for after treatment.
  • Medications. If necessary, some women may be prescribed medications during detoxification to help ease withdrawal symptoms. A therapist or psychiatrist may also recommend medications like antidepressants to help with co-occurring disorders.

Diagnosing and Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

Women struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol may also have co-occurring mental health disorders. The standard of care for treating substance use disorders and co-occurring conditions (sometimes also referred to as having a “dual diagnosis”) is to take an integrated approach to treatment, and to address both issues concurrently.4

Some common co-occurring mental health disorders women may have alongside a substance use disorder include:4

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Mood disorders.
  • Post-partum depression.
  • Eating disorders.

When co-occurring conditions aren’t properly treated, women may be at increased risk for relapse, poor psychosocial functioning, health problems, or even suicidal behavior.4 If you or a loved one have a dual diagnosis, seeking a women’s only treatment program that treats co-occurring disorders may be a helpful and effective option.

Relapse Risks

In addition to the issues outlined above, rehab for women should take into account that certain relapse risks are unique to women, which include:4

  • Severe untreated childhood trauma.
  • Low self-esteem in intimate relationships.
  • More symptoms of depression.
  • Difficulty ending relationships with other drug users.
  • Weight gain and/or body image issues.

Women who don’t learn the skills to cope with issues like previous trauma and other stressors may increase the likelihood of relapse after treatment completion.

Having aftercare, or continuing care, plan put together with your treatment team may be an effective way to help prevent relapse. Continuing care can be anything from step-down treatment to counseling, so long as it addresses your specific needs.

Addiction and Pregnancy

Substance use among pregnant women remains a significant problem. Studies show an increased use of marijuana during pregnancy and a significant rise in pregnant women with opioid use disorder between 1999 and 2014.3 Some estimates show that as much as 5% of pregnant women use one or more addictive substances.6

Treatment for Pregnant Women

Getting treatment is important regardless of whether a woman is pregnant; however, the potential risks are higher for the unborn fetus when a woman uses substances while pregnant.4 Finding treatment that specifically addresses the needs of pregnant women may help a woman find the medical, social, psychological, and pre-natal support she needs to help protect herself and her unborn child.

Effective addiction treatment for pregnant women should include:4

  • Nutritional support and counseling.
  • Education about effects of substance use on the fetus.
  • Evaluation for PTSD and trauma-related services.
  • Obstetric and gynecological services.
  • Treatment for co-occurring disorders.
  • Comprehensive clinical support.
  • Community support services.
  • Therapy, including family therapy, helps address personal relationships.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), pregnant women who are addicted to alcohol respond well to motivational interviewing (MI) as part of their treatment. Motivational interviewing is a compassionate, nonjudgmental, and gentle therapy style that helps to resolve ambivalence about using alcohol in pregnancy and helps a woman abstain from alcohol.4

Psychosocial interventions during pregnancy can also address the risks imparted by tobacco, caffeine, and over-the-counter medications (OTCs) during pregnancy.

Treatment for Pregnant Women with Opioid Use Disorder

Pregnant women or anyone struggling with opioid misuse should not try to quit opioids alone as they can present uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from opioids can cause fetal problems in pregnant women; however, proper treatment and medication management may help reduce health effects or harm to the fetus.4

A complete withdrawal of opioids presents serious risks to the fetus and mother. Clinical guidelines recommend that pregnant women should be treated with medication for opioid use disorder (e.g., methadone or buprenorphine), which increases the likelihood of better outcomes for the baby and a reduced risk of relapse for the mother.4, 7, 11

Some drug or alcohol rehab programs will not accept pregnant women because they do not specifically offer obstetric support and are concerned about liability.4 Check with the program beforehand to see if they offer these services.

Risks of Alcohol Misuse for Women

Alcohol misuse and addiction pose specific risks for women and additional risks for those who are pregnant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 4% of women overall in the U.S. have an alcohol use disorder (AUD).5 Using alcohol during pregnancy can increase the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth defects.5

Health risks associated with unhealthy alcohol consumption in women include the following:5

  • Liver disease (including cirrhosis), which women are at higher risk of developing because of alcohol use than men are.
  • Cognitive changes and decline, which develops more quickly in women than in men.
  • Breast and other cancers like mouth, liver, and colon.
  • Damage to the heart muscle, which can occur at lower levels of alcohol use in women than men.

In addition to the health risks related to alcohol misuse, women who drink heavily or binge drink are also at greater risk for sexual assault and other forms of violence.5

Find an Addiction Treatment Program for Women

If you are a woman struggling with addiction or know a woman who is, help is available. There are several resources and addiction treatment facilities available to help you get the treatment and support you need, like the compassionate admissions navigators at American Addiction Centers. Our confidential, free helpline is open 24/7 to help you find treatment, check your insurance and provide resources so you can begin your recovery journey and start living a healthy, full life. You can contact AAC at at . Our advisors can help you understand your treatment options and learn how to pay for rehabilitation.

Insurance Providers

Learn more about insurance providers for addiction treatment: