How Gender-Sensitive Drug Treatment Can Improve Outcomes

A recent UMass Amherst study published in Addictive Behaviors has revealed that delving deeper into the triggers of someone struggling with opioid addiction can inform treatment and improve outcomes. Many of these triggers can be gender-specific, requiring tailored advice and support services to overcome. Learn more about how this research could assist those struggling with opioid addiction and other types of addiction.

What Did the Addiction Study Reveal?

In this study, a UMass public health professor reviewed 600 opioid use disorder cases to evaluate the root cause or causes of the patients’ addictions. This research revealed that, while both genders in the study were statistically more likely than the general population to have had adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), women generally suffered this trauma earlier in their lives.

Women were also more likely than men to have had sexual-based trauma, which can increase the risk of anxiety and depression later in life. Often, women who have been sexually abused will turn to drugs (particularly opioids) and alcohol to disassociate from this trauma or stop obsessive thoughts or flashbacks. Meanwhile, men are more likely than women to deal with chronic pain, which can lead to painkiller addiction and then the use of street drugs.

Discovering the different reasons why each gender tends to use opioids can go a long way toward tailoring treatment to the individual, increasing the odds of success.

How Can This Research Improve Treatment Outcomes? 

Drug addiction treatment is more likely to be successful when the treatment program is specific to the person being treated. For example, a reserved introvert who has trouble opening up to others may not do well in an AA environment, where open, confessional-style dialogue is encouraged. And a man who has been sexually assaulted by a woman may benefit from an all-male treatment environment so that he can focus on healing from addiction.

The study author made several recommendations based on her research. By training physicians and psychologists to screen for ACEs, she hopes, patients can be routed to the facilities and organizations that are most able to help. Women who have been sexually assaulted may be able to better recover in a nurturing, male-free environment, while men who are dealing with chronic pain may want to coordinate their addiction recovery with the right therapist.

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