FOR decades, women battling drug and alcohol dependency in the United States have been able to "dry out" at female-only units in famous rehab centres such as the Betty Ford clinic.

Until now, however, that type of facility was absent from the UK, with female addicts left to recover at mixed-gender clinics.

The gap has finally been filled in a corner of rural Ayrshire, which last week became home to the country's first women-only private rehabilitation unit.

The Resonate Recovery facility, near Kilwinning can accommodate up to five female patients, with plans to expand to about seven hotel-style bedrooms. A 28-day stay comes in at just more than £10,000 - about £360 a night - although shorter stays can be arranged.

It is the third established in Scotland by addiction specialists Abbeycare Foundation, who also run mixed-sex rehabilitation centres in Kilwinning and Dalry and in England have a fourth unit near Cambridge.

The centre was long overdue, according to founder and treatment director John McLean, himself a recovered alcoholic.

"There are various worrying trends," he said. "We've found that, opposite to what people think, it's not a case of more men than women seeking treatment - it's around 50-50 now.

"That's across a wide range of rehabs, not just our own.

"Women are falling into problem drinking and alcoholism a lot more than they were ten years ago, that's for sure, and they face higher risks.

"Women have different drinking patterns that men, especially in terms of the type of beverage, amounts and frequency of consumption. And biologically, women's bodies react differently."

Women develop alcohol-related health problems at lower drinking levels than men, partly because, on average, they weigh less than men and because alcohol resides primarily in body water, of which they have less. So their blood alcohol level, drinking the same as a man, will tend to be higher.

"We teach women to be aware of the health risks," said Mr McLean.

Originally from Paisley, Mr McLean worked in the wine and spirits trade before alcoholism drove him to rehab. He kicked his addiction and set up his own chain of private clinics, opening the first Abbeycare centre in 2004.

The growth in alcohol addictions among women is increasingly linked to cocaine abuse, said Mr McLean. In other cases, patients had developed debilitating addictions to prescription drugs by inadvertently overdosing on opiate-based painkillers such as co-codamol or morphine.

On Monday a study revealed nearly one in 10 of those starting formal treatment for alcoholism at one rehab group is now a woman aged 60 or over.

Catherine Aird, centre manager at Resonate Recovery and one of Abbeycare's first clients when she battled her own alcoholism a decade ago, said their patients came from all walks of life and locations.

She said: "Our clients are all ages, young and old. They come from all over Scotland and abroad - from Greece, Germany, Turkey. We've got a woman coming in in the next few days from Tenerife. It's quite far-reaching, geographically, but the majority are from the UK.

"We get doctors, nurses, teachers - a lot of professional people who have fallen into addictions for all sorts of reasons. It could be stress, bereavement, family problems or relationship break-ups. For the older generation it can be retirement - all of a sudden they don't have work in their life so there's this void, and drink fills it."

The setting may be beautiful and the accommodation comparable to a luxury hotel, but patients face gruelling 15-hour days of psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy to grind out the underlying issues linked to their substance abuse in group meetings or one-to-one counselling sessions.

Leisure time is filled with trips to the nearby swimming pool and gym, walks in the countryside, meditation, holistic therapies, and horse-riding - used as a type of "equine therapy" to tackle stress and anxiety.

Contrary to the celebrity image of rehab as a type of holiday, Ms Aird stressed that clients must work hard to achieve results.

"They can't expect a magic wand," she said. "They have to work on their own problems so that they can leave with the tools to help themselves. It's intense."