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Gender Similarities & Differences in an Addiction Treatment Setting

By: Dr. Tammy C. Malloy, on May 15, 2017

Gender Similarities Differences in an Addiction Treatment Setting

In order to best serve the addiction population, Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches, Inc. takes an evidence-based approach to program and clinical structure to accurately treat both males and female with best practice in mind. The clinical day is structured with patients remaining in gender-specific clinical groups throughout the day (3-6 hours depending on level of care). At the end of clinical day, male and female patients attend 12-Step meetings, Smart Recovery, and other evening groups.  By attending co-ed meetings, the community is able to practice healthy boundaries. These groups also assist in working through areas that they have struggled with previously whether this is trauma related, unhealthy relationships, or other struggles that have hindered interpersonal growth.  Patients will be able to process their core issues with their identified gender while practicing healthy boundaries with the opposite gender throughout their treatment stay. When patients are in treatment, they are placed in a protective bubble as healthy support systems are ingrained into the programs they are attending. Once a patient leaves the treatment community, they go back to their “everyday life” where triggers and stressors are around every corner. Healthy integration with males and females is crucial as relationship issues, and co-dependent attachment is one of the most commonly identified triggers to recurrence. The disease of addiction is serious and recovery management must be maintained for optimal success. Bringing “real life” to treatment settings will assist in healthier outcomes for the population we serve. 

When designing our programs, it was important to look at previous gender research. This research looks at the differences and similarities between women and men when assessing the manifestation of substance abuse (Brady & Ashley, 2005; Tuchman, 2010; Wetherington, 2007). Differences include biological and individual responses to patterns of use, progression from use to dependence, gender differences in medical consequences, co-occurring psychiatric disorders with substance abuse, and women’s history of abuse and violence. Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches has facilitated research that compares men and women in hopes of implementing appropriate interventions that speak to gender specific struggles that the addiction population encounters. The outcome data shows the following:

Female substance users are more likely to isolate due to fear of rejection, have melancholic personality traits (low level sadness), strive to be seen positively by others, appear self-defeating (negative self-talk), have emotional dysregulation, have physical pain symptoms that are manifested by emotional discord, experience depression, and fall into the Bipolar spectrum. Females are also more likely to be diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Eating Disorders. 

In addition, women are more likely than men to come from families where one or more members are also addicted to drugs or alcohol, attribute their drinking to traumatic event or stressors, and attribute the cause of substance abuse to genetic predisposition, family history, or environmental stress (Nelson-Zlupko, Kauffman & Dore, 1995; Kauffman, Silver & Paulin, 1997; US Department of Health and Human Services, 2003). Moreover, women who are addicted have a history of over-responsibility in their families of origin and reportedly have experienced more disruption in their families than their male counterparts (Nelson-Zlupko, et al, 1995). 

Male substance users are more likely to appear attention seeking and gain this attention by participating in negative behaviors.  Males are also more likely to have turbulent personality traits that manifest both emotionally and physically. In addition, men are more likely to minimize their trauma, have fathers who were also substance dependent, have guilt and shame related to not being able to “take care of the family”, and minimize their mental health issues that are often co-occurring with their substance use. This minimization could be the reason that men are not diagnosed early on with mental health disorders and why recidivism is higher with males versus females. 

Male and female substance users are equally likely to be diagnosed with Substance-induced mood disorder, Substance-induced anxiety disorder, and General Anxiety Disorder. 

There are no gender differences pertaining to entitlement, impulsivity and manipulation, controlling behaviors, rigidity, passive-aggressive traits, Schizotypal and Paranoid personality traits, alcohol use, drug use, Adjustment disorder, ADHD, Schizophrenic Spectrum, and Delusional Disorder. Males and females were also proportional on all substances and were most likely to identify alcohol, heroin, polysubstance, or opiates as their DOC (BHOPB Alumni Data, 2016). 

Keeping all of this in mind, Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches, Inc. believes that being in a safe and supportive environment is crucial. We foster this by instilling growth, honesty, insight, understanding, and respect as the key components in cultivating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

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