Home » blog » Gender-Responsive Treatment: Exploring the Link Between Gender and Co-Occurring Disorders
Gender-Responsive Treatment: Exploring the Link Between Gender and Co-Occurring Disorders

Gender-Responsive Treatment: Exploring the Link Between Gender and Co-Occurring Disorders

One of the challenges of traditional rehab is a hyper-focus on abstinence, which does not account for the root cause of substance use disorder (SUD). In reality, SUD often co-occurs with other mental health disorders, which impacts the way you experience addiction. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 21.5 million adults in the United States have co-occurring disorders. However, many people, especially women, experience barriers to receiving effective treatment to address all their needs. Therefore, gender-responsive treatment is vital to support lasting recovery and well-being for women.

Further, looking at the prevalence of dual diagnosis for women highlights the importance of gender-responsive treatment. As SAMHSA states, 7.3% (9.5 million) of women have SUD and a co-occurring mental health disorder. The prevalence of co-occurring disorders is also most prominent among young women between the ages of 18 and 25, with 14.8% (2.5 million) of young women experiencing challenges with co-occurring disorders in a given year. 

Despite the significant number of women living with unaddressed co-occurring disorders, women are at risk for barriers that impede accessing and seeking treatment. Moreover, regardless of gender, many people with comorbid disorders experience challenges getting the care they need. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes, comorbidity in disorders means their interactions can worsen the course of each disorder. Yet, large numbers of people only receive treatment for one disorder or neither:

  • 3.9% of people only receive treatment for SUD
  • 34.5% of people only receive treatment for other mental health disorders
  • 52.5% of people do not receive treatment for SUD or other mental health disorders
  • Only 9.1% of people receive treatment for SUD and co-occurring mental health disorders

The poor access to co-occurring treatment and treatment in general speaks to the need for gender-responsive treatment. With the prevalence of worse health outcomes in untreated co-occurring disorders, gender-responsive care can highlight the presence of barriers to accessing support.

At New Creation Recovery, we recognize the impact dual diagnosis can have on treatment and lasting recovery for women. Addiction on its own can lead to a variety of challenges that disrupt every area of your life. Specifically, challenges with SUD can impede your well-being, relationships, academic goals, and professional goals. The additional challenges found in other mental health disorders like depression and anxiety can worsen SUD or be exacerbated by SUD. 

Thus, addressing drug addiction and mental health can feel daunting. On top of the difficulties of comorbid disorders, we also know women face unique challenges in seeking and receiving treatment. Therefore, we are committed to supporting the well-being of women with gender-responsive treatment. With gender-responsive treatment, you can find personalized support with holistic and Christian-based recovery programs at New Creation Recovery.

However, you may have questions about what makes something a dual diagnosis. Is dual diagnosis different than co-occurring disorders or comorbid disorders? How can gender-responsive care support healing dual diagnosis?

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis, co-occurring disorders, and comorbid disorders are terms often used interchangeably. Each term reflects the same general definition of two or more disorders existing in one person at the same time. As MedlinePlus notes, dual diagnosis typically refers to having both a mental disorder and SUD. Despite high percentages of people not receiving treatment for co-occurring disorders, occurrence is common. SUD and other mental health disorders often occur with each other more often than not. 

Some groups may have a greater risk of co-occurrence, such as individuals with serious mental illness (SMI) and certain mental health disorders. However, SUD and other mental health disorders are not born from cause and effect. On one hand, mental health disorders are not directly caused by SUD. However, on the other hand, SUD is not directly caused by mental health disorders. Rather, SUD and mental health disorders share a bidirectional relationship. 

In general, bidirectional refers to a reciprocal relationship between two factors. Due to each factor’s reciprocal relationship, each factor mutually influences the other. Therefore, in co-occurring disorders, SUD and mental health disorders are risk factors for each other. Some of the potential risk factors SUD and mental health disorders share for co-occurrence include:

  • Genetics: parental SUD and/or a parent with a mental health disorder
  • Chronic stress
  • Exposure to trauma, especially childhood trauma
  • Self-medicating with substances to alleviate or suppress mental health symptoms
  • Mental health disorders may make changes to your brain that decrease resilience to addiction
  • Substance use can make changes to your brain that increase the risk of developing a mental health disorder

Looking at the ways SUD and mental health disorders can harm each other showcases the need for treatment that addresses your needs as a whole person. Thus, whole-person care means that treatment should factor in every part of you and your life. With gender-responsive care in dual diagnosis, your needs can be supported from a place of awareness and understanding of the whole person. Yet, you may question what role your gender can play in disrupting healing for co-occurring disorders. 

Relationship Between Gender and Co-Occurring Disorders

Gender roles and expectations play an important role in how girls and women think, behave, and experience the world. The challenges of dual diagnosis for women have a few factors to consider. Understanding the disparities in gender means looking at how gender impacts the development of comorbid disorders and barriers to dual diagnosis treatment. As noted in Brain Sciences, female gender roles can contribute to precipitating dual diagnosis. 

Historically women have experienced prejudice and discrimination based on their gender. Thus, sexism has contributed to women having more frequent and pronounced experiences with trauma throughout their lives. Many of the traumas girls and women experience throughout their lives include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, as well as other forms of gender-based violence. In addition, much of the trauma girls and women experience is interpersonal, which means the trauma they experience is perpetrated by people they know. 

As a result, prolonged trauma can hinder the capacity for adaptive coping skills. When you are overwhelmed by trauma, to escape that psychological distress, you may seek out self-medicating with substances to avoid distressing thoughts and feelings. Further, trauma, when left to fester, can manifest as a mental health disorder like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Thus, trauma based on gender discrimination increases vulnerability to the development of co-occurring disorders. 

Through trauma and gender-based disparities, women are at an increased risk for mental health disorders compared to men. Although SUD typically occurs more frequently among men, women with and without SUD experience more comorbid disorders. As a result of the types of traumas and inequalities women experience, there is a higher prevalence of co-occurrence with disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. 

Moreover, societal expectations of women and gender-based trauma in childhood can culminate into unhealthy self-concepts and relationships in adulthood. The presence of abusive relationships like intimate partner violence (IVP) for women in adulthood can contribute to challenges. Prolonged trauma in interpersonal relationships can create pressures to adhere to traditional female roles that limit individualism and independence. When women are locked into gender roles by force, it showcases a long history of women caught in a cycle of emotional and economic dependence. 

Through dependence on abusive interpersonal relationships, mental health is compromised and maladaptive coping strategies are formed to get through daily life. Furthermore, dual diagnosis can be further complicated for women because of gender discrimination. Through implicit and explicit gender biases, as well as SUD and mental health stigma, women experience barriers to treatment for co-occurring disorders. Listed below are some of the ways gender discrimination and dual-diagnosis stigma contribute to harm and treatment barriers:

  • Increased stigma
  • More social penalties for SUD and mental health challenges
  • Assumptions and expectations about how women should behave
  • Women experience more societal disapproval of substance use
  • Increased risk of fractured and lost relationships, including losing custody of children
  • Greater risk for physical, sexual, and emotional abuse
  • More likely to experience unemployment, homelessness/unhoused, and social exclusion

Looking at the role of gender and its interrelated barriers to treatment showcases the need for gender-responsive care. Therefore, increasing your awareness of the value of gender-responsive treatment can support understanding gender-responsive treatment as a necessity of recovery.

Benefits of Gender-Responsive Treatment

Now, you may wonder what exactly makes something gender-responsive treatment. How does gender-responsive treatment support women with co-occurring disorders? According to the publication “Gender-Responsive Treatment,” by Erin Rodriguez, gender-responsiveness understands and acknowledges the different characteristics and life experiences women and men have. Through gender responsiveness, clinicians and clients work in collaboration to adjust strategies and practices to appropriately respond to those conditions effectively. 

Moreover, gender-responsive treatment is more than providing gender-specific groups in treatment. True gender-responsive treatment embodies the entire system in the treatment program and the values of the treatment center. Thus, in gender-responsive treatment, providers create a supportive environment through location, staff, program development, content, and materials. With gender-responsive treatment, you are embraced by a treatment environment that reflects an understanding of the realities of women’s lived experiences and addresses those realities. 

Further, the high prevalence of trauma in the lives of women speaks to the importance of trauma-informed care in gender-responsive treatment. Not only do women experience greater exposure to trauma and PTSD, but disorders like PTSD commonly co-occur with SUD. Through gender-responsive treatment, you have access to care that addresses your specific needs for treatment and recovery. Moreover, gender-responsive treatment supports fostering an environment in which you feel safe, seen, and supported as a whole person. 

As stated in Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, gender-responsive treatment encompasses a comprehensive harm reduction approach to recovery. With harm reduction in treatment efforts to minimize the adverse impact of co-occurring disorders are based on your biological, psychological, social, and cultural priorities and needs. The benefits of a harm reduction approach in gender-responsive treatment for women acknowledge the impact of your unique gendered experiences. Without consideration for how gender constructs and disparities inform your existence, true lasting recovery is not possible. 

Gender-responsive treatment in harm reduction allows clinicians to meet you where you are and tailor treatment to your specific experiences, needs, and goals. Listed below are some of the ways that gender-responsive treatment can address your needs as a women and individual:

  • Recognizes the impact gendered experiences have on the initiation, course, and type of substance use 
  • More effectively highlights paths to recovery that consider the whole person
  • Better equips clients to address co-occurring mental health challenges
  • Accounts for important environmental factors: parental and other family responsibilities and level of family support
  • Recognizes unique needs and barriers for pregnancy and childrearing in treatment and recovery
  • Invests in trauma-informed interventions to address the frequent presence of dual diagnosis rooted in trauma

The integrated nature of gender-responsive treatment reflects the importance of awareness and understanding of gendered experiences. Thus, through gender-responsive treatment, you can see the many ways depth of care for the whole person supports healing:

  • Expands self-awareness and understanding of trauma in your life
  • Supports safety and trust in treatment
  • Empowers opportunities for choice, collaboration, and connection
  • Improves access and use of resources: housing and other basic needs, nutrition, education, and peer support
    • Enhances parenting and the parent-child connection
    • Improves the health and wellness of the individual and the whole family
    • Supports social connection through reconnection to the self, culture, and community

There are countless individual, family, and community benefits to supporting recovery for women with gender-responsive treatment. However, some barriers impede access to gender-responsive treatment. Increasing your awareness of barriers to gender-responsive treatment can support understanding to dismantle those barriers.

Addressing Barriers to Gender-Responsive Treatment

In general, there are barriers to addressing the needs of individuals with co-occurring disorders regardless of gender. Listed below are some of the distinctive barriers that exist in providing treatment for co-occurring disorders:

  • Lack of and limited support for provider training in dual diagnosis
  • Poor integration of dual diagnosis treatment in primary SUD or primary mental health treatment programs
  • Lack of coordination and collaboration in accessing, diagnosing, and treating co-occurring disorders
    • The mental health treatment system and the SUD treatment system are two separate systems
      • They do not effectively communicate with each other or have the expertise to address the challenges of dual diagnosis
  • Individuals with co-occurring experience higher rates of incarceration: limited access to dual diagnosis treatment
  • Lack of specialized services to treat co-occurring disorders
  • Poor access to resources and services for dual diagnosis
  • Disparities in accessing information and resources for underserved communities: people of color, women, and LGBTQIA+, among others
  • Unstable housing, unemployment, no or unreliable transportation, and geographical isolation

Beyond the overall barriers to dual diagnosis treatment, there are specific barriers to gender-responsive treatment. Many of the barriers to gender-responsive treatment are built on gender inequalities. According to “Breaking Barriers: Towards More Gender-Responsive and Equitable Health Systems,” published by the World Health Organization (WHO), girls and women face many gender-related barriers to gender-responsive treatment in all areas of health and wellness. Listed below are some of the gender-related barriers women face in accessing care:

  • Lack of financial security: economic dependence on men
  • No or limited access to education
  • Poor or no childcare services
  • Gender-based stigma and discrimination for SUD
  • Restricted sense of agency and social independence
  • Lack of information regarding available services for treatment
  • Biased laws, policies, and treatment research and programs
  • Victim-blaming for gender-based violence and abuse

Despite the gender-related barriers that hinder access to treatment, increased awareness and education can support healing. 

Healing With Gender-Responsive Treatment at New Creation Recovery

At New Creation Recovery, we believe in providing a dual-diagnosis program that addresses the specific needs of women. Through gender-responsive treatment, we are dedicated to fostering an environment in which you feel safe and empowered to build the tools you need to heal. Thus, through a personalized approach to care, you can work with our team of experts to build the best recovery plan for you. 

With holistic care and Christian-based recovery programs, you can find the compassion and support you need to lead a purposeful life. Moreover, with the best rehab in the USA, holistic care gives you the space to be treated as a whole person. Here at New Creation Recovery, gender-responsive treatment is a commitment to healing the mind, body, and soul.

Women are more likely to experience co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD) and other mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The prevalence of dual diagnosis for women is rooted in gender-based disparities like more frequent exposure to trauma, gender-based violence, stigma, and discrimination. Thus, gender disparities also contribute to barriers to effective treatment and recovery. However, barriers to treating co-occurring disorders can be overcome with gender-responsive treatment. New Creation Recovery is committed to supporting your specific experiences and needs for healing with holistic, whole-person care. With gender-responsive treatment, we can support you in addressing the impact gendered experiences have had on your health and wellness. Call New Creation Recovery at (877) 868-5730 to learn more.