Men seeking addiction treatment still outnumber women, although the gender gap is slowly closing. In 2014, the last year for which statistics are available from the federal government, approximately 68 percent of people entering treatment were male and 32 percent were female. That translates into roughly double the number of men battling a substance abuse disorder.
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Addiction Patterns in Men versus Women
Men often begin abusing drugs earlier than women. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 11.5 percent of males ages 12 and over were using illicit substances compared with 7.3 percent of women.
Women often begin with social drinking and progress to heavier drinking, often hiding drinking patterns by drinking alone and at home. Men, on the other hand, are more prone to binge drinking and progressing quickly to experimentation with other substances. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 17 percent of men compared to 8 percent of women will experience health-related problems due to problem drinking.
Men also differ from women in illicit drug use patterns. Women often abuse prescription painkillers, perhaps because women suffer disproportionately from diseases such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, which are often treated with painkillers.
Individuals turn to drugs and alcohol for different reasons, but men often cite different reasons than women for using illicit substances. Women tend to self-medicate with alcohol, marijuana, tranquilizers, and other prescription drugs to alleviate anxiety or depression. Men, on the other hand, often turn to illicit drugs when they are feeling good to maintain the feeling of power, competency, and control.
Special Concerns for Gay, Bisexual, and Trans Men
Most of the studies on drug and alcohol use among men and men entering addiction treatment facilities refer to heterosexual men. But what about gay, bi, and trans men?
The CDC reports that these individuals are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than straight men. They have a tougher time quitting, and many remain heavy drinkers late into life. Gay and bi men are also more likely to abuse erectile dysfunction drugs, “poppers,” and methamphetamine, which can lead to risky sexual behavior and contracting HIV/AIDS.
While it’s essential for all men seeking addiction treatment to find and get the help they need, it’s even more important for gay and bi men who may be putting their lives at risk by contracting HIV/AIDs.
Urging Men to Seek Treatment
The consequences of drug and alcohol abuse are serious. For men, they can lead to loss of control, domestic abuse, and incarceration. Men often enter addiction treatment through the court system rather than of their own volition.
Men may need help admitting they have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Men tend to think they can handle any problem on their own and are loathe to ask for help when they need it. They may also deny that their illicit drug use causes problems unless forced to confront it after an arrest or incarceration.
Intervention may be necessary for men. In an intervention, a professional interventionist gathers family and friends and coaches them on how to confront an individual on their drug or alcohol abuse and consequent behavior. The meeting takes place in a neutral environment. Family and friends share specific situations and facts about how the addicted person’s behavior affects them. The interventionist has a substance abuse treatment center waiting if the subject of the intervention agrees to go into treatment.
According to Psychology Today, interventions may be a last-ditch effort for families desperate to get a loved one into treatment. For men who refuse to admit they have a problem with drugs or alcohol, looking into the eyes of their spouses, children, parents, and friends and hearing the emotional toll their abuse is taking on those they love may be what they need to push them into treatment.
Available Treatment Options
Treatment programs for men and women both include detox as well as individual and group therapy, 12-Step programs, and holistic support services. Men may find it easier to share their feelings with other men, so gender-specific group sessions and 12-Step meetings may be a better fit.
A comprehensive program of recovering includes treatment for body, mind, and spirit. Aftercare services, including family and social support, are critical. Men especially need additional support once they leave treatment. Relapse occurs frequently in men who live alone and experience social pressure. A strong treatment program for men should include addressing how to live outside the safe boundaries of the treatment center once clients return to their homes and communities.
If you’re ready to seek treatment, Bel Aire Recovery Center offers medically-supervised detox and a comprehensive treatment program for both men and women. Treatment services include detox, counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, and other services to help individuals with substance use disorders recover in body, mind, and spirit.
Addiction strikes both men and women, but each lives with different consequences and faces different challenges due to addiction. If you suspect your drinking or substance use has gone out of control, it’s time to seek help.