Although gender-based differences in substance use disorder are steadily declining, men still have a significantly higher likelihood of struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Whereas women often use drugs or alcohol for emotional relief, men frequently use substances to establish or strengthen social bonds. In general, men have more tolerant attitudes and beliefs about substance use. Moreover, given the prevailing ideas about what it means to be a man, men are also more likely to succumb to peer pressure.
Addiction is commonly attributed to various environmental triggers and genetic risk factors. For treatment to be effective, it must identify and address the underlying causes of substance abuse. Just as men and women use drugs and alcohol for different reasons and in different ways, they can also have dramatically different treatment outcomes.
If you or someone you love is dealing with substance use disorder, understanding why addiction affects men differently is important. This is a critical step towards finding the most needs-specific options in a treatment program. It can also help addicted men and their loved ones identify the right forms of ongoing, post-treatment support.
Addiction Affects Men and Women Differently
Men are twice as likely as women to binge drink. They also have far higher rates of illicit drug use. Men have higher rates of alcohol-related hospitalizations and death, and higher rates of alcohol use disorder all-around. Binge drinking and heavy drug use accelerate the path to addiction by expediting changes in both brain chemistry and brain functioning. Unfortunately, when men start the detox process, they are also more likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms.
To offset these differences, it’s often best for men to receive:
- Medically assisted detox services
- Flexible, adaptable options in addiction treatment
- Treatment that offers needs-specific counseling
Many men face the daily pressure of providing for others. As such, it can be hard for a man to step out of the role of breadwinner to seek treatment or take care of himself. Thus, one of the many challenges that men face when attempting recovery is learning how to balance their personal responsibilities with their need to receive help.
Common beliefs about what it means to be a man also impact how men process their emotions. For a man, needing help, experiencing overwhelming stress, or dealing with anxiety or depression may be viewed as weakness. To avoid public displays of emotions that might undermine their masculinity, men tend to externalize their emotions. When men become aggressive, easily frustrated, or easily angered, these are usually signs of anxiety and depression. Thus, the emotions that commonly drive addiction can look very different in men than they do in women.
Here are 5 Reasons Why Men May Be More Likely to Struggle With Addiction
There are many reasons why men are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, and more likely to struggle with addiction as a result. These include:
1. Gender-Related Expectations
Although not everyone believes that men should perform at consistently high levels or that they should never need outside help, these long-held social ideas have caused many men to put these same pressures and expectations on themselves. Men often view their own stress, depression, and anxiety as weaknesses, even if everyone else around them does not. As such, they are more likely to ignore or cover these issues up than face them head-on. Gender-related expectations also impact how men use drugs and alcohol. For a man, higher tolerance or the ability to “hold one’s liquor” has long been a social measure of masculinity.
2. Fewer Meaningful Social Ties
Compared to women, men often have fewer meaningful social connections. Friendships between men are usually largely centered around shared activities and interests. Many men don’t have friends that they can really open up to when they need to release stress, discuss difficult emotions, or seek guidance and advice. Absent these outlets, men can experience prolonged bouts of isolation and loneliness and may turn to substances when they need emotional relief.
3. Trauma or Adverse Experiences in Childhood
Childhood trauma has a lingering effect on both men and women. Sadly, however, it is more common for women to seek counseling for childhood trauma or to talk about it with others. Due to social views on masculinity, it’s often hard for men to speak openly about the times during which they were most vulnerable. Much like women, male survivors of childhood trauma can live with untreated depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and other unmanaged mental health issues. When past traumas and underlying mental health issues aren’t known and aren’t properly treated, people often attempt to self-treat with drugs or alcohol.
Unresolved guilt and grief are common barriers to addiction recovery and common causes of substance use disorder. In rehab, people have the opportunity to discuss these things in both private counseling and in group therapy sessions. For a man with limited social ties, using drugs or alcohol may provide a limited way to mute these emotions over the short term.
5. Underlying Physical Health Issues
Many men start the path to alcohol or drug addiction due to unresolved physical pain. They may use prescription medications or illicit substances to alleviate neck, back, knee, or shoulder pain resulting from car accidents, slip and fall accidents, or sports injuries among other things. Even age-related changes in how a man’s body feels and performs can lead to an over-reliance on pain medications or other potentially habit-forming substances. When men take more of a medication than their doctors have prescribed or when they combine pain medications with alcohol or illicit substances, they increase the risk of both overdose and substance use disorder.
Socially, admitting a need for help has always been more acceptable for women than men. Men are often expected to shoulder all challenges and weather all storms without needing to rely on others and without becoming overwhelmed. Even though societal expectations are changing and views on masculinity are fast-moving away from “toxic masculinity”, many men still hold themselves to the same dated, dangerous standards.
At Mississippi Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, we recognize the unique challenges that men face with addiction. We offer a flexible range of substance abuse treatment options including inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, and a dynamic, partial hospitalization program. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us today to speak with one of our admissions counselors.