Effectiveness of substance abuse treatment programming for women: a review

Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2003;29(1):19-53. doi: 10.1081/ada-120018838.


Recent research has shown that women and men differ in substance abuse etiology, disease progression, and access to treatment for substance abuse. Substance abuse treatment specifically designed for women has been proposed as one way to meet women's distinctive needs and reduce barriers to their receiving and remaining in treatment. However, relatively few substance abuse treatment programs offer specialized services for women, and effectiveness has not been fully evaluated. This article reviews the literature on the extent and effectiveness of substance abuse treatment programming for women and provides an overview of what is known about the components of successful treatment programs for women. Thirty-eight studies of the effect on treatment outcomes of substance abuse treatment programming for women were reviewed. Seven were randomized, controlled trials, and 31 were nonrandomized studies. In our review, six components of substance abuse treatment programming for women were examined: child care, prenatal care, women-only programs, supplemental services and workshops that address women-focused topics, mental health programming, and comprehensive programming. The studies found positive associations between these six components and treatment completion, length of stay, decreased use of substances, reduced mental health symptoms, improved birth outcomes, employment, self-reported health status, and HIV risk reduction. These findings suggest that to improve the future health and well-being of women and their children, there is a continued need for well-designed studies of substance abuse treatment programming for women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Care / organization & administration
  • Education
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care / organization & administration
  • Program Evaluation
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Women's Health*