A Case for Women's Focused Treatment

Researcher: Ashley Yassall

Writer: Merielle Crisan

In general, we know men and women look different when they are born, and as mentioned in SAMHSA Tip 51, women have a bio-psycho-social uniqueness. Women have different responses to substances, more occurrences of previous physical and sexual trauma, differential familial relationships and expectations, more financial barriers, more medical and gynecological risks, and a unique stigma for substance use disorder (1). As many know, there is an extremely high rate of substance use disorder in the prison system. A study showed that incarcerated females are seven times more likely to have experienced sexual abuse and four times more likely to experience physical abuse than men (2). Another study shows women have higher comorbidity of alcohol use disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (3).

These unique barriers common for women (even more so for low-income and non-white minorities) identify a need for gender-specific treatment. Due to numerous treatment barriers, it is not easy for one organization to satisfy all the client's needs unless they focus on this population. A growing number of studies show gender-specific therapy as effective, yet most women receive treatment in mixed-gender treatment programs (4, 5). Participation in gender-specific treatment is also associated with greater satisfaction, enhanced comfort, feelings of safety among women, and increased continuity of care following discharge (6). This is why we need to continue to support agencies like The Edna House for Women, the Women's Recovery Center, and Hitchcock Center for Women in Cleveland, Ohio.

Pictured: Sarah Murphy, The Edna House for Women and Ashley Yassall, Ashley Ryan Consulting LLC presenting at the ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County Conference on October 17, 2022.

  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Department of Health and Human Services. 2014. "KAP keys for clinicians, based on TIP 51: substance abuse treatment: addressing the specific needs of women." https://purl.fdlp.gov/GPO/gpo76465.
  2. Saxena Ph.D., Preeta, Messina Ph.D., Nena, and Grella Ph.D., Christine E., "Who Benefits from Gender Responsive Treatment? Accounting for Abuse History on Longitudinal Outcomes for Women in Prison." Crim Justice Behav. 2014 Apr; 41(4): 417–432. https://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/pmc/articles/PMC4045615/
  3. Sonne, Susan C. 01/2003. "Gender Differences in Individuals with Comorbid Alcohol Dependence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." The American Journal on Addictions 12 (5): 412-423. doi:10.1080/10550490390240783
  4. McHugh, R. K., Votaw, V. R., Sugarman, D. E., & Greenfield, S. F. (2018). Sex and gender differences in substance use disorders. Clinical psychology review, 66, 12–23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2017.10.012
  5. Green, Carla. "Gender and Use of Substance Abuse Treatment Services." Alcohol Res Health. 2006;29(1):55-62. PMID: 16767855; PMCID: PMC6470905. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16767855/.
  6. Greenfield, S. F., Cummings, A. M., Kuper, L. E., Wigderson, S. B., & Koro-Ljungberg, M. (2013). A qualitative analysis of women's experiences in single-gender versus mixed-gender substance abuse group therapy. Substance use & misuse, 48(9), 750–760. https://doi.org/10.3109/10826084.2013.787100

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