Gender-Specific Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Treatment: How SUD and Recovery Differ Between Men and Women 

Substance use disorder (SUD) affects every individual who experiences it differently. The variations, however, are especially apparent among men and women. These contrasting patterns of SUD that often occur in men and women may be better addressed in gender-specific settings, or men-only and women-only SUD treatment programs.


Men and women exhibit different patterns of SUDs. For instance, there are gender differences in:

  • Rates of dependence: ​​Men have almost twice the rate of substance dependence as adult women.
  • Choice of substance: Men are more likely than women to use almost all types of illicit drugs. Women are more likely to misuse prescription opioids to cope with pain and stress. 
  • How the brain responds to substance use: Women tend to be more sensitive than men to the effects of some drugs. Additionally, they often experience more drug cravings.
  • Seeking treatment: Women, especially those with children, often delay obtaining treatment longer than men, which can allow their SUD to become more severe over time.


Additionally, men and women experience different gender-specific circumstances that influence SUD. 

Women face higher rates of: 

  • Trauma: Women experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at two to three times the rate that men do. They may turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the symptoms of PTSD. 
  • Abuse: One and four women are victims of domestic abuse. They may use substances to cope with the mental and physical pain of experiencing physical or sexual violence
  • Mental health conditions: Women are up to 40% more likely than men to develop mental health conditions, which can exacerbate SUD. 
  • Struggles with self-esteem: Women are also more likely to experience low self-esteem. Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness are hallmarks of SUDs, as individuals may be driven to use drugs and alcohol to cope with their self-esteem struggles. In turn, substance use can perpetuate feelings of unworthiness. 
  • Homelessness: While men face slightly higher rates of homelessness, women tend to have a distinct homelessness experience, potentially involving violence, human trafficking, and sexual assault. In addition to facing these risks, homeless women have higher rates of alcohol and drug use than other women.

Gender-specific circumstances that can impact the susceptibility of men to SUD include:

  • Reluctance to admit their struggle: Men are often affected by societal pressures to embody strength and self-reliance, which can lead them to suppress their emotions and avoid seeking help for mental health issues or substance use problems.
  • Work-related stress: Men are often likely to work in high-stress roles or jobs that require physical labor, which can lead to mental health struggles, injuries, and chronic pain. As such, their risk of using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress or pain is heightened.
  • Social norms: Men may face cultural expectations to binge drink or use drugs in certain social situations, which can increase their risk of developing SUD.

Related: Origins of Addiction: Risk Factors for Substance Use Disorders


By offering separate programs to men and women, gender-specific treatment can more precisely care for the varying ways men and women experience SUDs. Some benefits of gender-specific SUD treatment include: 

  • Provides meaningful curriculum specific to the needs of men and women: In addition to considering the different patterns and influences of SUD men and women experience, clinicians can design therapy to tackle struggles and address recovery in ways that each gender may better appreciate. 
  • Fosters a sense of connection and community in group settings: Men and women are often more comfortable speaking about intimate and traumatic issues, such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, among members of their same gender. As they do deep therapeutic work necessary for healing, men and women can bond with those of their same gender, developing a sober support network to carry them through early recovery. 
  • Removes many of the distractions that occur in mixed-gender treatment: In group settings, individuals may feel less self-conscious without the other gender around. As a result, they may feel more comfortable honestly expressing themselves.  


Wasatch Crest offers gender-specific residential and transitional living programs in Park City and Heber City. Surrounded by the renowned Wasatch Mountains, our alpine-style estates offer refuge to men and women seeking healing from SUD. With compassionate clinical care that emphasizes adventure-based experiential therapy, our clients have the opportunity to develop foundational skills for beginning their lives in recovery. Additionally, clients are invited to join the Wasatch Warriors alumni program following their graduation, where they’re able to continue their bonds and create new connections in a supportive sober community. Reach out to learn more about our mountainside gender-specific SUD care. 

Read Next: What Is Residential Addiction Treatment?



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