How does gender play a role in mental health and substance use disorders?

“When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.” – Brene Brown

When we talk about men and women and their roles in society, we often look at the genders through different lenses. Think about it. Boys are taught from an early age, don’t show your emotions. Don’t cry. For girls, the message is very different – it’s okay and even desirable to be sensitive and open with your feelings. Women are often seen in families as the caregivers – the one who will solve our problems or be available to share our feelings and open up with. Men are viewed as the decision-makers and the people in charge. What happens when there is a breakdown in stability or unhealthy relationship patterns? How does this change when there is history of substance use or mental illness in a family?

At Crossroads, a behavioral health and addiction treatment provider since 1974, we guide our clients through their treatment journey with a gender-responsive lens that treats the individual with respect to his or her gender. Everyone experiences addiction and recovery differently. No two people’s stories are the same. Crossroads recognizes and respects these disparities. In addition to personal differences, addiction also affects each gender in a different way. The struggles and challenges that women face are not necessarily the same as those that men face. Women turn to alcohol or drugs to feel more comfortable in social settings and situations related to relationships. As a result, women often experience significant shame, stigma, and difficulty accessing appropriate treatment. For mothers, this is further magnified. For men, the allure of substances tends to lead to a desire to escape uncomfortable feelings or relationships. Men face increased financial instabilities, homelessness, trauma, and incarceration due to their mental health and substance use.

Research has found that self-image, relationships, sexuality, and spirituality are connected with gender and addiction and all experienced differently by men and women pursuing recovery. At Crossroads, treatment programs for women and men are separate to create a more welcoming, non-judgmental environment where discussion and healing can take place. Women are seen by female clinicians, and men are scheduled with male clinicians. Recovery from substance use or mental health disorders is an ongoing process. Engaging in gender-responsive behavioral health treatment services can support men and women in maintaining their recovery. It’s important to recognize and acknowledge what it means to be a man and a female in a male-based society. Clients are immersed in a customized program that fits their individual needs and participate in counseling with others of the same gender to create a safer and more comfortable environment with a focus on building healthy relationships in recovery. At Crossroads, we work with each client to help them discover who they wanted to be and return to their families healthy,
engaged and prepared to continue their recovery journey.


Dr Mary Ann Roy Chief Clinical Officer Crossroads

Dr. Roy is the chief clinical officer for Crossroads. Since 1974, Crossroads has provided residential treatment services for women struggling with substance use disorder. Located in Greater Portland, Crossroads provides gender-responsive addiction and behavioral health treatment services for men, women, and families struggling with mental health, substance use and eating disorders in a safe and respectful environment.

Visit us at or call 207-773-9931 to learn more.