Why Gender Specific Treatment?

We want every patient we treat to find inspiration in their new life!

Women and men develop, experience, and recover from addiction differently. Because of this, we have established separate residential facilities at Cherry Street for Women and John Street for Men. Sanford West addiction treatment programs separate men and women as well. And at our Outpatient Center, we have specialty programs which may designate separate genders. Our residential eating disorder programs are currently for women only.

All the clinical experience and modern gender research points to one thing - women and men should be treated for their addictions separately. Men and women differ in their pathways to addiction. And men and women have different reasons for entering treatment, different needs within the treatment continuum, and different goals for recovery.

LGBTQ+ Integrated Addiction Treatment

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), LGBTQ+ individuals have higher rates of substance misuse and disorders than those who identify as heterosexual (cisgender). Factors that affect substance use may include LGBTQ+ culture, stigma, violence and harassment, and co-occurring mental health issues. Providing a safe space to discuss and affirm sexuality, gender identity, and their parallels to addiction and mental health is integral to the Sanford treatment model. Though we identify as a gender responsive treatment facility, we also successfully treat individuals who are gender nonconforming, transgender, genderqueer, gender-fluid, agender, etc.

Substance use disorders do not discriminate. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are key to Sanford outreach initiatives and programming. We are committed to ever enhancing our environment for diversity, and inclusion of all people seeking our help.

Gayle Wireman, Director of Human Resources, Sanford Behavioral Health

Gender Specific Programs - the Reasons


Addiction treatment is often the first opportunity for people to begin to establish sober friendships and work on relationship skills. While in active addiction, these skills may have disappeared. Group therapy sessions, outside meetings, and community outreach allows those in treatment to establish safe healthy relationships and find support without distractions.


Healing the effects of trauma is an important part of addiction recovery. Psychological trauma is damage to the mind that occurs as a result of an extremely distressing event. Trauma is often the result of overwhelming stress, or the inability to process the emotions involved with the negative experience. Both men and women respond to physical, emotional, and sexual trauma differently. Trauma is a recurring theme in addiction treatment. Many of our clients tell us they feel most comfortable processing traumatic experiences in a gender specific environment. When treating gender non-conforming individuals, we determine their comfort level in entering a particular Sanford location and provide many opportunities in group/individual/family therapy to process the unique experiences/trauma/stressors of those who are not cisgender.


There are differences in the pathways to addiction between men and women. Women develop substance use disorders more quickly than men (called telescoping). The health-related consequences of substance use are more common in women. Women are more susceptible heart disease, liver damage, infectious diseases and breast cancer. And women have unique issues associated with reproduction and pregnancy. Men tend to experience greater withdrawal symptoms than women. Of course, biological, social, cultural, and individual factors are all components of what makes you, you.

Stigma and Shame

Both men and women both experience stigma and shame when it comes to substance use disorders. Women have more barriers to treatment and are less likely to enter addiction treatment than men. However, when they do enter treatment, gender-specific models are often a motivator. Perhaps because the stigma for women, especially older women or those with young children, still seems to be greater than that of men. This may be because of the more traditional women’s roles of childbearing, child rearing, and societal mores. Men face a distinct set of barriers. In the more traditional roles, men fear not being able to provide financial support or appearing as weak.

Safety and Lack of Distractions

For those who have experienced the trials of addiction, the need for sanctuary is vital. Our clients say they feel more comfortable discussing personal, even embarrassing issues within the same gender responsive environment.

Family Responsibilities

There are different family responsibilities and relationship dynamics for men vs women. And the stigma associated with addiction might be experienced differently for men vs women within the family system. Addiction wounds all the members of the family and relationships must be reevaluated. Women may have more acute responsibility and guilt regarding their children. A gender specific program for women focuses simultaneously on the needs of the woman and her children. Men may feel they have let the family down. A gender responsive program for men emphasizes emotional expression and personal self-sufficiency. This allows the family system to adjust throughout the recovery process. Atypical or non-traditional family mores are also addressed within Sanford programming.


Men communicate differently than women. And they listen differently. When patients are in co-ed groups, women tend to nurture and men tend to want to fix things. During gender specific treatment, men have an opportunity to practice listening and emoting. Women have a forum to speak and listen., and to build strength in their convictions.

Treating the Unique Individual

Certainly, the goal of recovery is not exclusion or complete independence. Nor is it cookie-cutter. We want to prepare our clients to go back to their real life situations. We understand that gender roles and norms influence both men's and women's behavior. We equally understand that looking at each individual’s unique identity is the best way to prepare them for long-term recovery. We want every patient we treat to find inspiration in their new life and to be bolstered by a healthy sense of self-worth.

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