For women with alcohol and other substance abuse concerns, the accessibility and availability of treatment options is important. Research is also showing that treatment preferences can influence treatment success and outcomes.

Some of the reasons why an organization might consider providing women-only substance abuse programs or programming might include:

  • Greater ability to focus on women-specific content (e.g., the effect of substances on women’s health, women’s social and family relationships)
  • An environment and treatment process that allow enhanced comfort and support, which may be especially important for women who have a history of trauma
  • An opportunity to provide adjunctive services that are key to successful treatment outcomes among women

Shelly Greenfield, a professor at Harvard Medical School, and her colleagues recently published an article looking at some of these issues for 28 women in a US city who were primarily dealing with alcohol as their primary substance of concern. They compared the experiences of women in a women-only relapse prevention group based on women-focused content and another group of women in a mixed-gender group.

The research team found that women in both treatment groups demonstrated similar reductions in substance use during treatment. However, the women in the women-only group showed continued reductions in substance use after six months and reported greater satisfaction with their treatment.

Greenfield has several other studies examining women-only treatment programs, but this qualitative study provided the opportunity to explore how communication styles, discussion topics, and overall group atmosphere differed between women-only and mixed-gender groups.

For more on this topic, see earlier post Women-only treatment programs important and effective (November 10, 2011).


Greenfield, S.F., Cummings, A.M., Kuper, L.E., Wigderson, S.B., and Koro-Ljungberg, M. (2013). A Qualitative Analysis of Women’s Experiences in Single-Gender Versus Mixed-Gender Substance Abuse Group Therapy. Substance Use & Misuse, 48: 750–760.

Greenfield, S.F. and Grella, C.E. (2009). What is “women-focused” treatment for substance use disorders? Psychiatric Services, 60:880-2. doi:  10.1176/ Download free full-text from here.

Swift, J. K. and Callahan, J. L. (2009). The impact of client treatment preferences on outcome: A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(4), 368–381. Download free full-text from here.