In recent years, there have been worldwide efforts to address the lack of addiction harm reduction and treatment programs for women. There are certain aspects of addiction and recovery that are unique to women, but is there really a need for gender-specific programs? Since studies show women have an increased risk of certain mental health disorders, it is evident that women-focused care is necessary.

Different Mental Health Comorbidities

Women have higher rates of co-occurring mental health conditions than men. They also tend to be affected by different mental health disorders, especially eating disorders and other self-harming coping mechanisms. In addition, the presence of co-occurring mental health disorders negatively affects recovery in women more than men.

Different Barriers to Treatment

Women have barriers to treatment that are unique to their gender. Compared to men, women are more likely to have:

  • Economic barriers to treatment
  • Family responsibilities that prevent them from attending treatment
  • Social stigma, embarrassment or shame because they are in treatment, especially if they are pregnant
  • Mental health disorders that impair their ability to seek help
  • Cultural expectations that are barriers to treatment access

Society expects pregnant women to avoid substance use of any kind, which adds to the stigma of addiction. They may be ashamed to admit they have a substance use problem and seek help, creating a significant barrier to seeking treatment.

Different Life Experiences

Traumatic life experiences such as sexual or physical abuse are a major risk factor and cause of addiction, especially in women. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 38% of women suffer physical or sexual abuse.

These rates increase to around 80% in women who have substance use disorders. In fact, coercing women into substance abuse has been identified by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as a common method used by abusive men to exert additional control over their partners. A U.S. study also showed that 50.8% of women entering a treatment program supported their drug habit through prostitution. These statistics show that many women may be uncomfortable or restrained in co-ed treatment programs.

With the unique needs of women suffering from addiction, treatment programs that are carefully oriented toward gender-specific content (such as abuse history) are important. It is vital to gain the trust and honesty of participants during recovery, and these gender-focused programs have already been shown to be more effective in women.

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction and co-occurring mental health condition, The Recovery Village is here to help. We understand the importance of harboring a safe, welcoming atmosphere that fits with each person’s situation and past history. Contact us today to learn about specific treatment programs that can work well for you.


American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “Caught in the net: The impact of drug po[…] women and families.” (n.d.). Accessed June 28, 2019.

Burnette, Mandi; Lucas, Emma; Ilgen, Mark; et al. “Prevalence and health correlates of pros[…]tance use disorders.” Archives of General Psychiatry, March 2008. Accessed June 28, 2019.

Harm Reduction International. “Briefing paper on violence against women who use drugs.” March 2013. Accessed June 28, 2019.

Green, Carla. “Gender and use of substance abuse treatment services.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, (n.d.). Accessed June 28, 2019.

Greenfield, Shelly; Grella, Christine. “What is “women-focused” treatment fo[…]tance use disorders?” Psychiatric Services, July 2009. Accessed June 28, 2019.

Polak, Kathryn; Haug, Nancy; Drachenberg, Haroldo; et al. “Gender considerations in addiction: Impl[…]tions for treatment.” Current Treatment Options in Psychiatry, September 2015. Accessed June 28, 2019.

Simonelli, Alessandra; Pasquali, Caterina; De Palo, Frencesca. “Intimate partner violence and drug-addic[…]oriented treatments.” European Journal of Psychotraumatology, September 12, 2014. Accessed June 28, 2019.

Stone, Rebecca. “Pregnant women and substance use: Fear, […]nd barriers to care.” Health & Justice, February 12, 2015. Accessed June 28, 2019.

World Health Organization (WHO). “Violence against women.” November 29, 2017. Accessed June 28, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.