Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Treatment: Different for Women?
Dual diagnosis treatment in the field of recovery is a common situation where the treatment plan addresses both substance abuse and mental illness. It can be a chicken and egg situation to determine which diagnosis is primary, so substance abuse treatment centers often aim to treat both. Substance abuse for women often coincides with physically or emotionally dangerous situations, so it is extremely important to treat the mental illness and the substance abuse at the same time.
Dual Diagnosis: Men vs. Women
Until recently, it was assumed that there were no differences in treating men and women with substance abuse or mental health issues. Gender specific dual diagnosis treatment has become somewhat of a buzz word in the recovery and addiction field, but is it necessary?
Research has shown that women are more likely than men to be targets of physical abuse and rape. Women are also more likely to be supported in their abuse by a partner, who may also be addicted to drugs or alcohol. This may seem to put women with abuse problems as higher risk for mental illness and thus dual diagnosis.
The truth is that there is no evidence to support that dual diagnosis is more common in women than in men. In fact, treatment programs often see the same number of male and female patient's diagnosis with both mental illness and drug abuse. What is different is the type of disorders. Women are more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders while men are more likely to suffer from antisocial personality disorders.
Given that there is no difference in the rate of dual diagnosis in women, we come to the issue of treatment. Treatment for men and women may be very different. That is because mental illness may be caused by a traumatic event. By defining trauma as a situation that over powers an individual's ability to cope, we find that the situations and events that create feelings over powerlessness and dependence are different between men and women.
Dual diagnosis treatment programs for women often include steps towards empowerment. Supporters of recovery programs find that empowering women to become emotionally stronger, economically independent and in control of a positive self-image leads to a more successful and effective recovery.
Because of the cultural context in which mental illness and substance abuse occurs, dual diagnosis treatment programs that are gender specific often carefully control the treatment setting. For example, individual therapy sessions may take into account the gender of the therapist and client (female therapist/female client), fitting recovery into the context of a woman's life.