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Are Men More Likely to Relapse After Treatment?

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Addiction is a complex disease that affects the mind, and it’s manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Those struggling with addiction or severe substance use disorders will fixate on a specific substance, such as drugs or alcohol, to the point that it consumes their entire existence. They will continue to use despite the problems it may be causing them or between their families. Fortunately, addiction treatment is available, and many people will recover and lead productive lives. With that said, between men and women, are men more likely to relapse after treatment?

Although addiction is a universal issue, there are many differences in the causes, manifestation, and treatment needs based on the populations. This sentiment rings especially true for the difference in care men and women will require moving forward in their care. Men and women both experience addiction and typically differ in the types of drugs used, the consequences of their addiction, and their needs. 

Men and Addiction

When it comes to treatment, it’s understood that men and women will have different needs, but does this mean that men are more likely to relapse after treatment? Well, according to the data released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an estimated five million men reported misuse in the past-year with drugs or alcohol

The study also shows that men are less likely to seek treatment for abuse of sleeping aids but are more likely to seek addiction treatment. Men are also more likely to develop addiction problems than women and are more likely to develop severe addiction disorders. Men also are more likely to exhibit co-occurring personality disorders and abuse more than one substance at a time. 

Reasons for Substance Abuse

Men are more likely to abuse drugs to seek pleasure, enhance their moods, or cope with problems in social situations, according to Psych Central. Men are more likely to have a co-occurring antisocial personality disorder, but this hasn’t been linked to whether it increases the risk of their drug abuse. Due to the general body composition of men and their metabolisms, they tend to use more drugs and alcohol to feel intoxicated. It has been shown in men that it takes longer for them to develop an addiction to substances than women.

Effects of Substance Abuse

Substance use disorder has many harmful effects for both men and women, but some of the effects for men include:

  • Increased risk of cancer, heart disease, mental illness, and death.
  • Lower sperm production, which makes it harder to conceive healthy children.
  • Decreased levels of testosterone, which affects sexual performance or desire.
  • Adverse behavior that embarrasses or damages your family.
  • Lowered productivity, accidents on the job, or other work-related performance problems. 

Treatment and Outcomes for Men

The addiction treatment model is shown to be based on treating men, and it can be easier for a man to get treatment than a woman. Despite this, women who reach out for help will do better after a shorter period than men. Other studies have shown that men are more likely to relapse after treatment (32 percent) than women (22 percent), according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The evidence may point to the treatment model for men requiring adjustments to achieve lower rates of relapse in men. 

Aftercare for Men

There is evidence pointing that men should stay in treatment longer since they’re less likely to get help if they relapse. In light of this, aftercare is vital in solidifying relapse prevention skills and tools to help men transition from treatment into a more conventional life. Programs like Contingency Management, sober living, and other motivational techniques should be included in treatment programs for men to discourage relapse in the future. It will help them to build self-confidence and motivation to resist triggers or cravings they’ll experience outside the walls and comfort of addiction treatment. 

Women and Addiction

The same information we shared above from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shows that women’s drug statistics differ slightly from that of men. An estimated 15.8 million women reported using illicit drugs in the past year – 4.6 million of those admitted to misusing prescription drugs. Women are also more likely to seek help for the abuse of sleep aids but are less likely to seek treatment in general. Women also develop substance use disorders quicker than men and are more likely to have anxiety disorders or experience panic attacks. 

Reasons for Substance Abuse

Information released from Psych Central shows that the causes of substance abuse for women are more focused on self-medicating for social pressures or psychological problems. On top of that, trauma, relationships, and family or home situations will have a more significant effect on a woman’s choice to use drugs. Women are more likely to abuse stimulants like cocaine, meth, or nicotine to lose weight more than men. 

Women may experience co-occurring disorders like depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, or eating disorders. Women will also become more intoxicated from less of a substance and will become addicted faster than men. A study released from Biology of Sex Difference states that the differences between sexes differ in how neural systems are organized for motivation and reward

Typical Drugs of Abuse for Women

Information shown by the Harvard Medical School describes that women are at greater risk of abusing opioid pain medications than men, resulting in a higher likelihood of ending up in the emergency room or overdosing on these drugs. Although they aren’t more likely to use stimulants than men, the survey shows they are more likely to use them at a younger age. 

Although fewer women abuse alcohol than men, they are more vulnerable to experience the effects of alcohol and become intoxicated on a much less amount than men. The study also shows that women are more likely to suffer severe health consequences as a result of drug abuse. 

Treatment and Outcomes for Women

Unfortunately, women are far less likely to seek treatment than men, and this is because of commitments that make it harder to pursue help, including children or other home responsibilities. Unfortunately, women who seek treatment also face a stigma that makes it harder for them to get help. However, once women seek treatment, they are just as likely as men to finish and achieve their recovery goals. Special services may be required to help women meet specific needs, such as family therapy, social support, therapy for trauma, or help with parenting.

Women need to get help at a facility designated for women, especially if they’ve experienced trauma. A treatment center that includes men could be detrimental to their outcome. A successful treatment for women will depend on women-only programs. 

Aftercare for Women

Women are more likely to have shorter treatment times and seek guidance once treatment concludes to stave off relapse. This is one reason why women have lower relapse rates than men. Since addiction is a chronic illness with no cure, it’s impossible to guarantee that men or women will end with long-term recovery. Aftercare will provide tools and the skills necessary to prevent relapse, but this is up to the person getting help. 

Sources

Harvard Health Publishing (January 2010) Addiction in Women. from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/addiction-in-women

NIDA (November 1998) Men and Women in Drug Abuse Treatment Relapse at Different Rates for Different Reasons. from https://archives.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/1998/11/men-women-in-drug-abuse-treatment-relapse-different-rates-different-reasons

American Psychiatric Association (October 2020) What Is Addiction? from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

Cigna (March 2018) Drinking, Drugs, and Men. from https://www.cigna.com/individuals-families/health-wellness/drinking-drugs-and-men

NIDA (October 2020) 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

BMC (June 2012) Sex Differences In the Neural Mechanisms Mediating Addiction. from https://bsd.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2042-6410-3-14

PsychCentral (October 2012) Men Vs. Women: Does Gender Matter in Addiction Recovery? from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/addiction-recovery/2012/10/gender-addiction-recovery/

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