DAWN: Promoting Gender-Based Drug Use Prevention and Recovery

What Should Be Done?

Studies on the treatment of drug addiction and gender have shown the existence of biological and psychological differences, as well as social and environmental differences that can influence the reasons for looking for assistance, the type of treatment or service and their effectiveness. Different types of treatment are being experimented with women in consideration of the fact that women adhere better to treatment if included in psychotherapy and group counselling. During the treatment, it is also important to stress the need to include sexual education (fertility, contraception, prevention of STDs, etc.) and diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric co-morbidity and eating disorders.

Attention to gender differences, as recommended in the principles for the treatment of drug addiction of UNODC/WHO (2008) and in the NIDA guidelines (2009), should keep into account the stigmatization of addicted women and the need for services to implement the necessary actions to confront this issue in all aspects of care. In addition, parents should be supported when dealing with adolescent girls, especially in offering an alternative educational model to that often presented by the media.

Attention to gender differences should start from the diagnostic phase. As the international literature reports, the diagnosis should investigate specifically: the family and/or the partner's use of psychotropic substances; episodes of depression; use/abuse of prescription psychotropic drugs; violence, physical and psychological abuse during childhood; physical and psychological abuse, including sexual abuse or induction to prostitution by the partner (NIAAA, EMCDDA). In addition, women who use substances are more likely to be victims of rape and sexual abuse, of sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted or precocious pregnancy.

It should be important to sensitize parents, teachers and local health and social services dealing with drug addiction on the importance of taking into account gender differences during the treatment and rehabilitation.

Current prevention programmes tend to neglect gender differences and are targeted to males rather than females, with the result that they are mostly ineffective on women. It is crucial to adopt a different approach in the preventive strategies and in the information messages sent through the media. This approach should take into account gender differences and consider the diverse reasons driving girls to experience drugs, the risk situations and the different sensibility and approach that girls have in comparison to boys.

Moreover, treatment programmes should be targeted specifically to women and take into account gender differences, in particular in the case of alcohol or drug-dependent mothers with underage children.

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