Addiction treatment for women can follow a different trajectory than addiction treatment for men.
I remember back to the early days of the addiction treatment field, when treatment in free standing facilities was getting its start under funding from Lyndon Johnson's Great Society Lighthouse programs, and we were taught that women's progression through the stages of alcoholism was faster than that of men.
It would stand to reason that addiction treatment for women would be different also.
For example, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment identified these 17 factors specific to the issues of women in addiction treatment. "1. The causes of addiction, especially gender-specific issues related to addiction (for example, factors related to onset of addiction and social, physiological, and psychological consequences of addiction)
2. Low self-esteem
3. Race, ethnicity, and cultural issues
4. Gender discrimination and harassment
5. Disability-related issues
6. Relationships with family members and significant others
7. Attachments to unhealthy interpersonal relationships
8. Interpersonal violence, including incest, rape, battering, and other abuse
9. Eating disorders
10. Sexuality, including sexual functioning and sexual orientation
12. Grief related to the loss of children, family members, partners, and alcohol and other drugs
14. Appearance and overall health and hygiene
15. Isolation related to a lack of support systems (which may or may not include family members and/or partners) and other resources
16. Development of life-plans
17. Child care and child custody."
Another factor important to the issues of women in treatment is the environement of treatment.
The actual physical facility, its design for both connection and privacy, its colors, smells, textures, sounds, tastes, and grounds can make a wonderful difference in the early anxious days of treatment, when the central nervous system is attempting to recalibrate itself without a substance it has become very used to having present.
One model for treatment center layout is the Planetree model, developed by Angelica Thieriot.
A little about how the Planetree model is used by the Orchid Treatment Center in Florida.
"The philosophy of designing "healing spaces" integrates a variety of environmental elements to create an ambience that is not only attractive, but also will have a measurable effect upon the health and well-being of those who use the space. In creating the Orchid's new space, the designer's task was to enhance and support recovery goals within the existing architecture by creating functional space and furnishing it both practically and beautifully. The Orchid incorporates art, color, sound, and scents with powerful elements of interior design in a deliberate attempt to create a living environment that is itself a therapeutic tool.
"Our goal was to create an environment specific to the specialized healing needs of women, in which we seamlessly meld 12-Step philosophies with modalities based on the latest empirical research--but in an environment addressing all five senses--thus amplifying treatment and greatly reducing relapse," remarks Dr. Dodge. "Central nervous system problems, restlessness, the inability to calm the mind--these are all common side effects of detoxification from any substance. Literally through the use of architecture and design, we have been able to greatly soothe clients while creating an environment that complements our treatment ideology of personal growth through the encouragement of a high degree of interdependence and trust among women during the treatment process."
That last sentence,..."growth through the encouragement of a high degree of interdependence and trust among women during the treatment process," is the key to addiction treatment for women.
Research suggests that men and women experience alcohol and drug addiction differently. Not only do they have different biological responses and co-morbid factors, but they also have separate reasons for turning to drugs and alcohol in the first place.
Men are often struggling with anger management or defiance, which are great tools to overcome shame, whereas women often bring trauma or social issues to their recovery process.
So the addictions field, as is the educational arena, is seeing the value of gender specific approaches to major life issues like addiction.
Over the years, I have watched the emergence of women's AA and NA groups, where trust could be worked on in an environment where issues with the other gender were not immediately playing out.
In my early days attending AA, I was very nice to the female members of the group, and with the passage of time I realized I was being seductive, rather than in a relationship of equals.
Being seductive provided me emotional safety, because I did not have to engage in conflict, but it was not a true measure of sobriety, and that seductiveness was really about power and control rather than equality.
A treatment environment which eliminates that gender issue of seduction by sequestering the genders may give the treatment a wonderful headstart.