Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can look quite different in men and women. This is especially true when it comes to the reasons why men and women begin to drink. Where women are more likely to talk about their depression, anxiety, and general discomfort, men are more likely to internalize these things. They are also far less likely to seek help.
Unfortunately, keeping negative emotions bottled in doesn’t alleviate the related pressure. Instead, it often paves the way to alcohol addiction. When people are emotionally overwhelmed and don’t have reliable outlets for their angst, they frequently look for ways to relieve their own symptoms. For this and other reasons, both heavy alcohol use and full-blown alcohol use disorder are far more prevalent among men than they are women.
Alcoholism Affects Men Differently
Men and women face social expectations that are unique to their genders. Whereas heavy alcohol use among women was once incredibly taboo, men have long been encouraged to drink heavily. The ability to tolerate strong drink or “hold one’s liquor” has been a sign of strength and masculinity for many centuries. Conversely, crying, showing frustration or fear, or expressing feelings of depression and discontent are often seen as making men less masculine.
Even when men aren’t surrounded by people who hold these social expectations, men can still have a strong sense of needing to adhere to them. Moreover, when feeling vulnerable or sad makes men feel weak or less “masculine”, the ability to drink heavily can do quite the opposite. Many men drink because it instills a false but convincing sense of confidence while effectively muting their emotional pain. Others drink because it also reaffirms their sense of masculinity.
Psychological Differences in Men and Women
Heavy alcohol use can make men who are self-treating problems like anxiety and depression more aggressive. When men cannot comfortably talk about their emotional pain or seek help for other mental health issues, aggression becomes a viable outlet for the related pressure and stress. Alcoholism in men with untreated mental health issues can lead to extremely lowered inhibitions, violent encounters, and other aggressive acts that cause legal, financial, professional, and relational problems.
Alcohol can also be incredibly empowering for men who suffer from social anxiety. Guys who aren’t confident when approaching potential partners may feel the need to drink in nearly all social settings. Often referred to as “liquid courage”, the inhibition-lowering effects of alcohol can make it seem like the perfect tonic for shyness, lack of assertiveness, and general social discomfort.
It’s also important to note that men are aggressively marketed to by beer and alcohol companies in ways that women rarely are. Through advertising and other social cues, many men are programmed from an early age to accept alcohol use as an acceptable response to peer pressure, and as an acceptable means for emboldening themselves.
Alcoholism Statistics for Men
With binge drinking, people have a consistent pattern of consuming alcohol until their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches 0.08 percent or higher. Binge drinking involves consuming large amounts of alcohol within very short periods of time. It frequently results in blackout episodes in which alcohol users continue talking and acting, but are no longer consciously aware of their words or decisions.
It also contributes significantly to the top causes of accidental death in the nation, including falling accidents and auto accidents. Binge drinking is a common cause of alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose among men of all ages. According to research, men are two times more likely to engage in binge drinking than women.
Alcoholism Statistics for Women
As attitudes towards both alcohol and gender increasingly change, there has been a surprising uptick in both heavy drinking and alcohol use disorder among women. Recent research has shown a significant increase in binge drinking among college-age women and a significant increase in general alcohol consumption among women overall.
Similar reports show that approximately 13 percent of adult women currently binge drink approximately four times each month. These findings are especially concerning given that women with alcohol use disorder often have considerably higher rates of liver inflammation, liver disease, heart disease, and other chronic health issues.
Health Risks for Men and Women
While men have a higher likelihood of consuming alcohol, and in far greater quantities, the health risks of heavy drinking can be higher for women than men. Both men and women who drink heavily are at an elevated risk of developing:
- Liver disease
- Throat cancer
- Alcohol-related cognitive decline
- Brain shrinkage
- Esophagus cancer
- Mouth cancer
- Colon cancer
At every age, women with alcohol use disorder also have an elevated risk of developing breast cancer.
There are, however, certain effects of heavy alcohol use that are specific to men. Men who drink heavily have a higher likelihood of developing sexual disorders and experiencing sexual dysfunction.
They are also at an elevated risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, and other weight-related issues, particularly when heavy drinking is done in a man’s late thirties, early forties, and beyond. Alcoholism in men can also lead to hormonal problems that may result in gynecomastia (man boobs), excess belly fat, diminished libido, and hair loss among other functional and aesthetic problems.
Treating Alcohol Addiction in Men and Women
Alcoholism in men is often best treated by diagnosing any underlying mental health disorders that people may be self-treating. These can include:
and many others. Men often turn to alcohol as a means for muting the emotional discomfort of low self-esteem, unresolved guilt or grief, and feelings of abandonment, hopelessness, and isolation. When the cause of a person’s drive to use alcohol as a coping mechanism is known, new and healthier coping strategies can be learned. Certain mental health disorders require long-term management with medication, and others can be resolved through talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other therapy types.
Women are more likely to use alcohol as a means of coping with trauma. When this is the case, similar approaches to addiction treatment can be equally effective. For both men and women, addiction treatment must go beyond merely encouraging abstinence. Instead, it should additionally provide strategies and tools for promoting mood balance, and for effectively releasing, working through, or alleviating pressure, stress, and pain.
At Recovery Bay Center, we take a comprehensive and needs-specific approach to treating alcohol use disorder. Our mental health services, and our outpatient and inpatient addiction programs offer a vast range of treatment modalities and support options that help our patients achieve sobriety and maintain it. If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol use disorder, call us today.