Girls' and Gender Issues in Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment

Dorie Klein, Public Health Institute

A large and growing number of offenders are mandated to alcohol and drug treatment in lieu of incarceration or as a condition of probation, and this is increasingly true for juveniles. Feminist experts have long argued, and clinical experience has substantiated, that females have different treatment needs from males, and better outcomes in gender-separate programs. Furthermore, on the adult side, there is a major federal investment in women's perinatal substance abuse programs, although these serve only pregnant women and newly parenting women. In the prevention arena, adolescent girls' issues are being studied, and, in the juvenile justice system, addressing gender disparities in confinement is a policy priority. There is a steady climb in the numbers and proportions of juvenile drug arrestees (and adult ones) who are female. All these factors would argue that in the small but developing field of publicly funded adolescent alcohol and drug treatment, attention should be paid to gender issues and girls' specific needs. Yet the experiences of recent policy and applied evaluation work by the presenter suggests that this is not yet the case. A feminist policy approach to addressing these issues must go beyond demanding equal treatment access for girls. It should question the gendered nature of current treatment methods, and, more globally, the fairness and rationality of current legal, social service, and public health responses to youths' drug-related problems.

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Updated 05/20/2006