Gender and Addiction Counseling: The X/Y Factor

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Historically men have been the more chronic cases when it comes to drug addiction and substance abuse.  Addiction counseling has tended to devote more time to males as they are more likely to start using at a younger age, are more prone to binging as far as drinking and using, and they usually consume drugs and alcohol in far larger amounts than women.  The key though for any addiction counseling program or addiction counselor is to understand how drug abuse affects the genders specifically.  There are critical differences between men and women and how each consequently handles addiction or becomes susceptible to drug abuse, differences that need to be taken into consideration.  While it may be true that men have more of a reported history of drug abuse, the nuances associated with these types of reports and with addiction in general should certainly be explored.  

The Differences in Addiction Rates

Men may start at earlier ages, but it is women who tend to fall into patterns of addiction faster and more easily.  According to several studies done by those in the field of addictions counseling, women are generally more susceptible to addiction.  While nothing conclusive has been proven, some addiction counseling courses teach that certain chemicals in the female brain in tandem with estrogen levels do in fact play a role in drug and alcohol addiction.  And also, it has been found that women often relapse at higher rates than men when struggling to recover from alcohol or drug addiction.  

Addiction counseling has also shown that many of those who are prone to substance abuse are also those who tend to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders, people who rely upon prescription drugs to a greater degree.  And studies have subsequently shown that more women than men occupy this category.  In fact the nonmedical abuse of prescription drugs is becoming an increasing issue across the globe, with women outnumbering men according to a number of addiction counseling specialists.  

Is there a need for Gender Specific Treatment?

While many in addictions counseling and a number of addiction counseling courses suggest that treating substance abuse is universal and in some ways gender blind, there are those that espouse gender specific treatment plans and programs.   But what, if any are the benefits of basing a recovery plan on the person’s gender…

  • A greater feeling of safety.  Surrounded by women in similar situations, females suffering from drug addiction often feel more secure as far as being comfortable enough to share, talk about their past and address their future.  The same goes for men, as sometimes there is that aura of discomfort around members of the opposite sex as far as addiction counseling may go.  
  • Different effects on the body.  Drugs and alcohol affect men and women differently.  The toll substance abuse has upon the body is gender specific.  As women tend to become addicted faster and at lower levels of usage, the path that they need for recovery, according to many addictions counseling beliefs should be more social and interactive.  
  • Defined by culture and society.  Women are traditionally seen as the caregivers, as members of a culturally defined sphere in many cases.  For those females suffering from alcohol and/or drug abuse, their treatment should take their role as mother or wife or daughter into consideration and flesh out the significance of this in terms of their illness and subsequent recovery.  

Many involved in addiction counseling will argue that gender should be a crucial factor when preparing treatment programs for those suffering and / or recovering from substance abuse.  When you think about the different responses not just to societal and real life pressures, but to how men and women respond to addiction, you can certainly see the efficacy in a gender-based approach.