Dirk Hanson’s article Alcoholism’s Gender Gap is Closing Fast (November 4, 2011) over at The Fix was my first introduction to the work of Harvard Psychiatry Professor Shelly F. Greenfield.

Hanson comments on the closing gender gap in alcohol problems. (I discussed this “convergence” in youth a couple of weeks ago – see the post Gender Convergence in Youth Binge Drinking, October 20, 2011). In the early 1980s, the ratio of men to women with alcohol use problems in the United States was 5:1; by the early 1990s, this ratio was 2.5:1.

One of Greenfield’s areas of research is gender differences in substance disorders. She comments: “the disease of alcohol dependence proceeds on a faster course in women, requiring medical treatment four years sooner, on average, than for male problem drinkers.” And, as most readers of this blog are aware, addiction treatment strategies developed for men do not work equally well for women.

Recently, she and her colleagues developed a treatment manual with a focus on issues specific to women. They found that their women-only pilot study of the manual was as effective as as a typical, mixed-gender, 12-week treatment program. Interestingly, they found that after six months, women from the all-female group continued to improve, whereas women in the mixed group were likely to have relapsed. Greenfield comments that a woman-focused women-only program “isn’t important for all women, but will be really essential” for some.

Read the interview in Harvard Magazine here.