Guest Post: Addressing Trauma Through Gender-Specific Treatment


The following article is a guest post by Alison Broderick.

The basics of gender-separate addiction programs and why they work

It’s no surprise that men and women differ in many ways. Until recent years, however, they have been grouped together in addiction research and treatment. Consider the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. A majority of its content references the male alcoholic. For years—and even to this day—a stigma has surrounded chemically dependent women. And for years, women who struggled with addiction isolated themselves from the rest of society.

Tian Dayton, PhD, TEP, author of Psychodrama and the Treatment of Women, describes substance abuse in women in the following way: “Alone in their homes, they simply pulled the shades down, stopped answering the phone and disappeared into their ever-contracting world.” Thus, addicted women were either looked down upon or practically ignored. As for those who did seek professional help, they were placed in the same groups as their male counterparts.

Although advancements have been made in the addiction treatment industry, many facilities continue to treat men and women in a co-ed environment. Clients are expected to share intimately and openly with one another. Such programs promote gender diversity as an effective means of helping addicts get to the root of their addiction and relationship issues, because they are confronted with these issues during treatment.

The truth is, men and women face different issues in active addiction. Trauma is often very much a part of the addict’s childhood. Chemically dependent individuals with a co-occurring diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) need a safe, loving environment in which they can address the PTSD symptoms without feeling threatened. For example, a woman who has a traumatic history of sexual abuse from a male authority figure might feel uneasy and intimidated in a co-ed environment and thus, unable to address the core issues of her addiction. Relapse is possible.

Gender-specific treatment not only provides a supportive therapeutic setting, but also encourages personal growth and eliminates further distraction. Drugs and/or alcohol are merely symptoms of the disease of addiction. The key to lasting recovery is uncovering that which lies beneath and ‘unlearning’ old behaviors, patterns, habits and ways of thinking. It’s a “work-on-me-before-I-can-work-on-me-with-you” mentality, and it works.

If women use/drink differently than men, then should they not receive separate treatment as well? Many experts believe gender-specific treatment is the only way to achieve long-term sobriety. Whichever direction you or your loved one chooses to take, one thing is certain: Great strides have been made in the field of addiction research and treatment, offering hope to the once-hopeless addict.

Alison Broderick is a freelance writer who is passionate about carrying the message of recovery to those suffering from the disease of addiction. She lives in Marietta, Georgia with her husband and two boys, ages 9 and 7, and devotes much of her time to MARR—a non-profit treatment center in Atlanta that provides lasting treatment through gender-specific programs.