Addiction, a chronic disease, is not confined to a specific race, geographical area, sex, or ideology. However, environmental factors, genetics, and cultural differences can change how individuals interact with drugs and alcohol, and their substance use disorder experiences.
Men and women both struggle with alcohol and drug use disorders that can affect multiple aspects of their lives. However, they may have unique experiences and challenges to overcome. Addiction recovery is a personalized process. For that reason, men should be aware of the challenges they could face during recovery.
Learn more about substance use disorders and how they affect men in recovery.
Men and women who misuse drugs or alcohol seem equally as likely to develop a substance use disorder. Neither has shown a unique ability to withstand excessive drug and alcohol use without developing a problem. However, more men seem to misuse drugs and alcohol than women do. Because they tend to misuse drugs more frequently, more men have substance use disorders than women. They are also more likely to misuse illicit drugs than women.
Marijuana is the most common illicit drug among men, followed by hallucinogens, cocaine, inhalants, methamphetamine, and cocaine. Men are also twice as likely to binge drink alcohol than women. More than half of men (58 percent) reported using alcohol within the last 30 days before a survey, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most people who drink don’t have alcohol use disorder, but men are more likely to develop a drinking problem than women. Around 4.5 percent of men have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), compared to 2.5 percent of women.
Because men drink more and develop AUD more frequently than women, they also struggle with the consequences of drinking at higher rates. Alcohol-related deaths and injuries are more common among men, and they are more likely to struggle with alcohol-related long-term health problems like cancer.
Prescription drug use is less divided based on gender than illicit drugs and alcohol. Some studies also suggest that women are more likely to misuse drugs like prescription opioids than men. This could be because women are more likely to experience chronic pain symptoms, a risk factor for prescription opioid dependence.
Women are also more likely to use prescription opioids to self-medicate for issues such as anxiety. Men are also less likely to misuse central nervous system depressants like benzodiazepines. This may be because these drugs are often used to treat anxiety disorders, and women are more likely to struggle with anxiety disorders.
Alcohol, and even drug use, often starts as a social enterprise. One study of Irish men found that substance use was often initiated to bond with other men, as well as for pleasure or excitement. The study also notes that men’s motivation for substance misuse is often complex and often contradictory.
Drug and alcohol use often starts as a recreational or social activity, especially among men. However, people with other life stressors or underlying mental health disorders can quickly develop a substance use problem. Men with depression or anxiety issues may start to self-medicate, using a psychoactive substance to treat mental or physical problems without consulting with a medical professional.
Using alcohol or drugs to dull the pain from these issues can lead to chemical dependency or addiction. A problem may first become apparent when drinking or drug use becomes asocial. For example, if you regularly find yourself drinking alone, especially to the point of intoxication, you may be developing a dependency. Problem drug use may also involve using drugs to feel normal or avoid negative symptoms rather than recreation.
When it comes to recreational drug use, men and women usually approach drug misuse for similar reasons. Most people seek a pleasurable euphoric high, to have fun, or to socialize with friends. However, there are many other reasons people might take drugs, some of which may differ between men and women.
For instance, when it comes to using stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamines, more women cite the need for more energy or weight loss as reasons to take the drug. On the other hand, more men report stimulant use to work longer hours or to perform better sexually.
When it comes to prescription drugs, men are more likely to misuse prescriptions for recreational purposes. At the same time, women are more likely to misuse prescriptions to self-medicate for existing issues.
Men and women face several barriers to addiction treatment. Responsibilities at home, the cost, and your sense of the need for change are important factors in a person’s decision to seek substance abuse treatment. There is also a social stigma that admitting the need for substance use treatment is a sign of weakness or an embarrassment, especially among men. Men are often more reluctant to seek treatment than women.
Men in the U.S. are often taught to be self-reliant, dealing with their own problems. Men often go to treatment as a result of legal trouble, court-appointed treatment, or to appease friends of family members. This can mean that many men enter treatment with no readiness to change. In treatment, men might have more trouble opening up to peers and therapists.
Both men and women often have to deal with co-occurring mental health conditions in addiction treatment. They both can suffer from various mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and others. While women are more likely to struggle with mental health issues, mental health problems may be more severe in men. For instance, men are more likely to die by suicide than women.
Treatment should address mental health issues alongside substance use disorders for both men and women. However, therapists may adapt treatment to directly address gender-specific issues a client might be facing.
Gender-specific treatment refers to a therapeutic approach in addiction treatment that addresses issues men and women may be facing. Treatment is a personalized process, and people come to treatment with different needs. Gender-specific treatment is one way to tailor the therapeutic approach to individuals. Since men and women experience treatment differently, gender-specific treatment can address those issues in ways that are sensitive to gender differences.
For example, since men and women often initiate drug or alcohol use for different reasons, treatment exploring those specific reasons may be more beneficial. A group therapy session for men who approached their substance use issue for similar reasons may make each individual more comfortable and willing to open up.
However, not every man fits the mold for gender-specific treatment. Some men may thrive in a treatment setting where they hear different perspectives from peers. Some men may deal with trauma from abuse and even sexual abuse, which isn’t as prevalent among men in treatment. While gender-specific treatment is helpful for many men, there is no one universal treatment approach that works for everyone. Through treatment, your therapist should be able to assess your needs and adapt your treatment plan accordingly.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, May 28). Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/substance-use-in-women/sex-gender-differences-in-substance-use
CDC. (2019, December 30). Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men's Health. from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/mens-health.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, October 03). Products – Data Briefs – Number 330 – September 2018. from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db330.htm
Darcy, C. (2019, October). Men and the Drug Buzz: Masculinity and Men's Motivations for Illicit Recreational Drug Use – Clay Darcy, 2020. from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1360780419879940
Rigg, K., & Ibañez, G. (2010, October). Motivations for non-medical prescription drug use: A mixed methods analysis. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2937068/