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Why Gender-Specific Treatment Is Important

When seeking treatment for substance or alcohol use disorder, the choices can seem overwhelming. In addition to the different types of modalities (residential, outpatient, intensive outpatient program (IOP), long-term), there is also the seemingly trivial matter of choosing gender-specific treatment. While you may wonder why gender-specific treatment is important, or if it is even relevant, there are compelling arguments for “keeping the men with the men and the women with the women.” While men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus, men and women do come to treatment with very different experiences and present with dramatically different needs. 

Treatment is Not a Dating Site

First, let’s look at the most obvious reason to keep things separate. When you are in a treatment program, your very life is at stake. You are getting treatment for an illness that will strip away everything you have. Yet it frequently happens that, once the fog has lifted, men and women in treatment centers find themselves getting distracted by one another. This distraction occurs for many reasons, one of which is an unconscious desire to avoid the uncomfortable feelings that begin to surface in early sobriety. You are supposed to be feeling uncomfortable though, and focusing on a “rehab romance” is the last thing that you should be doing.

Codependency, anyone?

There are more than a few reasons that getting involved with someone with whom you are in treatment is a bad idea:

  • It provides a false sense of security
  • Focusing your attention on someone else keeps you from looking inside yourself
  • Neither of you has healthy thinking
  • One or both of you are likely to relapse
  • You can’t substitute drugs and alcohol with people
  • Your emotions are already unstable in early sobriety; adding a relationship makes things worse

If you happen to be married or already in a relationship, you are not immune to this peril. Regardless of how much you may love your partner, your emotions are raw when you are newly clean and sober. Suddenly, that person on the other side of the room (whom you met three days ago) understands you, gets you, in ways that your spouse never possibly could. More than one marriage has hit the rocks because of situations just like this.

When you have removed the drugs and alcohol, your brain is looking for things to replace them. Starting a relationship with someone just as sick as you (at the moment) is a dangerous substitution. You are there to learn how to deal with life on life’s terms. Focusing on groups and meetings, reading the literature, and talking to your peers and counselors should take up most of your time. Putting yourself in a treatment center that keeps males and females separated removes this temptation.

Men and Women Have Different Experiences

While it is true at a fundamental level that addiction knows no gender, in practice, this is not the case. Men and women come to treatment with different experiences, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Both arrive having suffered pain, but their experience of that pain is vastly different. Common themes that are perceived differently by gender can include:

  • trauma (including sexual trauma)
  • abandonment
  • fear
  • grief and loss
  • legal problems

These are just a few examples. While it is possible to get started in sobriety in a treatment center that doesn’t separate clients by gender, those and other sensitive personal issues can make things difficult. Men especially are socialized in our culture to deny their feelings. Talking about emotions is often viewed as a weakness and admitting particular experiences might be unthinkable if there are women present. Keeping these secrets hidden and leaving treatment with them still inside is a dangerous business. “We are only as sick as our secrets” is a primary truth in sobriety. What grows in the dark dies in the light. If you can’t drag the past out into the light around the opposite sex, you should choose a facility that doesn’t mix the sexes.

 A Note for the Men

Men face diverse challenges in recovery. As fathers, caregivers, husbands, and professionals, men are often under enormous pressure to produce and provide for their employers, families, and loved ones. Effective treatment programs approach the mixed emotions men usually encounter when becoming sober and help them cope with these emotions to develop long-term sobriety.

In addition to addressing the unique emotions that men feel in treatment, other advantages of a gender-specific addiction program for men include: 

  • A distraction-free environment where they can concentrate on healing
  • Treatments that speak to distinctly male-related issues in recovery, including masculinity and sexuality
  • The opportunity to build enduring bonds with other men in recovery
  • A greater level of comfort that may be difficult to find in gender-mixed programs
  • More open communication
  • A more profound connection with peers
  • Diminished perception of judgment, the result of which may be more of a willingness to discuss deeper issues

Getting help for substance or alcohol use disorder is the single most important decision you have ever made. Setting yourself up for success right from the beginning is your best hope for living a life of continued, joyous sobriety. That success likely includes finding a treatment center that is gender-specific and focused on recovery.


Gender-specific treatment may have been what you were looking for all along.  On the other hand, it may not have crossed your mind at all until now. Whichever the case, choosing a treatment program that caters to the specific needs that your gender presents is one of your best hopes for a solid foundation for recovery. Cornerstone Healing Center’s male-only Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) affords an individualized focus, sense of brotherhood, and supportive environment for young men. Our atmosphere allows the clients to be more open, in turn improving treatment and overall outcomes.  Clients find themselves with fewer distractions and fewer barriers to sharing strong emotions and memories, which can be difficult in a mixed-group setting. Cornerstone’s evidence-based treatment includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy, occupational therapy, meditation, yoga, weight training, and sober living during and after treatment. If you or someone you love is seeking male-only treatment for drug or alcohol use disorder, you can reach Cornerstone Healing Center at (800) 643-2108

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