Substance Abuse and Gender
Research continues to demonstrate that men, more than women, are more likely to use illicit drugs. Additionally, men begin using drugs and alcohol at younger ages than women, and addiction rates are twice as high for men than women. (That is not to state that women do not suffer from substance abuse and overdoses). According to A Pew Research report, “men drink excessively, which is associated with higher rates of alcohol-related deaths, hospitalizations, and risky behaviors…[M]arijuana use in males is higher, as is the prevalence of cannabis use disorder.
Research has shown that trauma experienced at any age can lead to the use of drugs, alcohol, and mental health disorders. The suicide rate among men is four times greater for men than for women. Though more women attempt suicide, more men actually go through with it. “Men suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder are twice as likely to suffer from substance abuse disorder.” Research has found that traumatic stress “affects different areas of the brains of boys and girls at different ages.” Understanding how men typically respond to trauma and other mental health disorders is necessary in treating substance abuse.
Men are less likely to seek medical or behavioral health counseling for the problems they face despite suffering from depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders (SUD). According to SAMHSA’s TIP 56 (treatment protocols), “socially defined concepts of masculinity push men in our culture to restrict their emotional responsiveness, be more competitive, be more aggressive, and be self-reliant…”
As a social construct, masculinity includes ideas and beliefs about what it means to be a man and how a man is measured against that construct. How one feels about oneself can be influenced by the societal construct of what it means to be a man. Rituals relating to the concept of manhood vary from culture to culture. But, “In the United States, men are often called upon to prove their masculinity through sports competitions, high-speed driving, or sexual conquest. Many such conventional manhood rituals are intertwined with excessive alcohol consumption…[Binge drinking among college students is considered a form of ritualized behavior.]”
Mental Health Stigma Among Men
“Statistically, men tend to fall into dangerous, self-destructive behaviors rather than seek professional help for their mental health. They may avoid or delay seeking treatment because of concerns about being treated differently, or due to perceptions that having a mental health issue diminishes their masculinity.”
Fears surround many men’s perception of seeking health for mental disorders, whether depression, anxiety, aggression, etc. The problem with unaddressed mental health and medical conditions, for both men and women, is that the disorder or condition generally worsens over time. Indeed, with mental health disorders like those mentioned above and many others, the lack of medical attention often leads men to seek self-medicating. Self-medicating can be drinking more to feel more relaxed, taking drugs bought on the street or gotten through family, friends, or neighbors. These patterns lead to the need to take more drugs or drink more alcohol.
One outcome of stress related to mental health disorders, combined with poor eating, and using drugs, leaves men more susceptible to heart disease. Heart disease happens to be the number one killer of men. The turn to drugs or alcohol, poor diet choices, and smoking cigarettes lead to more illness and higher costs of living. Additionally, when men turn away from acknowledging their mental health disorders, everyone around them is affected. Because men, in general, develop different coping skills than women, men experience depression, for example, differently. Some symptoms related to depression in men are:
- Escapist behavior which can include working overtime or engaging in sports
- Digestive problems
- Controlling or violent behavior
- Irritability or inappropriate anger
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling anxious or on edge
- Wanning sexual desire and performance
- Thoughts of suicide
There are more men in treatment facilities than women; however, most men arrive at a facility because they are motivated by the following:
- The criminal justice system.
- Referrals from behavioral health resources.
- Family or work-related pressures.
Regardless of why a man enters treatment, the opportunity to address destructive notions of manhood is required. Through various therapeutic modalities in male-centered programs, such as group therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, medication management (if needed), life skills training, coping technics (including meditations and mindfulness), problem-solving skills, positive goal setting, and decision making, self-defeating notions of masculinity can be challenged and changed. In this way, a man can learn to make healthy decisions, utilize physical activities to build self-esteem, avoid old criminal behaviors (if that is part of the man’s history), and make healthy lifestyle changes, including healthy diet choices.
Men in treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders must learn to express their feelings, take responsibility for their feelings, and ask for help when needed. While speaking openly about sexual abuse is difficult for both men and women, research has found that men in single-gender environments are more able to share openly and honestly about this issue than if women are part of the group.
Single-gender treatment programs can help men build strong, healthy, life-affirming relationships with other men that are not based on alcohol, drug use, or sexual conquests. Recovery requires a man to alter relationships and associations with whom he has used drugs and drank alcohol. Such associations are triggers to relapse.
Each man has his unique story, though he can relate to specific behaviors of other men who are addicted or suffering from mental health disorders and traumas. This approach requires a particular treatment plan for everyone, as treatment and recovery are not a one size fits all process.
Treatment must be supervised by a team of medical staff trained in SUD treatment. Best practices need to be established and used appropriately. Clinicians must train in the therapies they utilize and perform regular evaluations and assessments. A coherent and thorough aftercare program must be designed to fit the client’s needs so that care continues while the person readjusts to being back in the world.
If you or a loved one requires SUD treatment which addresses mental health disorders call today and confidentially speak with one of our staff. They can answer all your questions and find the best option to meet you or your loved one’s needs.