Battling addiction and ready for treatment?
Understanding Substance Abuse in Men
For many years, addiction research focused more on men than other genders. However, that doesn’t mean we know the exact mechanisms that lead to addiction in men.
We know that anyone of any gender, race, age, or background can struggle with addiction. Certain substances may have vastly different effects on a person depending on these factors.
What Is Addiction?
Addiction (also known as substance use disorder) is a chronic disease where the individual has no control over the doing, taking, or using of a substance despite the obvious harmful side effects.
Many factors may contribute to the development of addiction, but studies suggest the interactions between environment, genetics, and brain functions lead to this compulsive and often destructive pattern of behavior.
It’s important to acknowledge that everyone experiences challenges differently, including those individuals who identify as trans men or present as men. Our page dedicated to addiction within the LGBTQIA+ community offers information tailored to these specific experiences.
Although addiction treatment improves daily, addressing substance abuse can be challenging. Many people who struggle with addiction tend to abuse drugs or alcohol secretly, making it much harder for a loved one to notice the addictive behavior.
Differences Between Addiction in Men and Women
With so much early research focused on addiction in men, some clear patterns have emerged.
Studies have shown that, generally, men are more like to become addicts than women. Research also shows that men are more likely to experience social and economic problems due to addiction.
According to research in 2016 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 9,978 men died from a prescription opioid overdose compared to 7,109 women—an average of 27 men per day compared to 19 women.
NIDA also reports that men are more likely than women to use most illicit drugs, including cannabis, illegal stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine, and hallucinogens.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that men are about twice as likely as women to binge drink.
In addition, men are more likely to abuse substances due to peer pressure and the effects of strict gender roles. When applying these virtues to substance abuse, it’s easy to see how such a mentality could reinforce substance abuse and addiction—and prevent men from seeking help.
Causes of Substance Use Disorder in Men
Although the exact cause of addiction isn’t known, studies point to a combination of genetic predisposition (i.e., family history), upbringing, and major life events like the passing of a loved one or traumatic experience.
How addiction affects each person depends on these factors, but men may experience added pressure from peers, societal expectations, and the expectation to be unemotional.
Stigmas around getting help and being vulnerable may be frowned upon in some families and cultures. These stigmas create barriers to treatment for men whose lives and well-being depend on it.
Risk Factors for Addiction in Men
A common risk factor, regardless of gender, includes a history of addiction in the family. Because certain genes are linked to patterns of addiction, awareness of addiction within your family can help avoid certain risks. While genetics pose a risk for any gender, men have an increased risk.
Self-medicating can be found across all genders. While often more common in women, studies show that men also use substances as self-medication. In some cases, this self-medication results from a lack of access to mental health services.
Men may choose to depend on substances to cope with symptoms of other conditions rather than speak with a therapist or loved one about their troubles and appear “weak.” Some may try to numb chronic pain or combat exhaustion with substances.
Co-Occurring Mental Illness
Getting treatment for co-occurring mental illnesses comes with its own stigmas.
Men are often discouraged from seeking help for mental health, so with few “acceptable” options, many look to substance use to handle their symptoms.
Mental illnesses that commonly coincide with substance use include the following:
- Bipolar Disorders I & II
- Clinical depression
- Anxiety disorders
- Eating disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Borderline personality disorder
How Substance Use Affects Men’s Health
Prolonged addiction in men elevates their risk for the following negative side effects:
- Mental illness
- Skin infections
- Lung disease
- Heart disease
- Hepatitis C
- Sperm count
- Sexual performance (e.g., erectile dysfunction)
Warning Signs of Substance Abuse in Men
Some men go to great lengths to hide evidence of their struggles and/or addiction, making substance abuse difficult to identify early on.
Physical Warning Signs
Physical warning signs of addiction in men include:
- Altered or secretive behavior
- Appetite changes
- Bloodshot eyes
- Changes in physical appearance
- Bad hygiene like yellowed teeth, not bathing, or a generally unkempt appearance
- Defensiveness about substance use
- Financial issues
- Lack of energy
- Poor work or school performance
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Slurred speech
Behavioral Warning Signs
Behavioral warning signs of addiction in men include:
- Abrupt changes in personality
- Emotional and mental withdrawal
- Inattentiveness or Irritability
- Lack of motivation
- Mood swings
- Spending more money than usual
- Obsessing over getting the drug
- Disregarding risks and warning signs
- Unable to stop using the drug
- Denying or hiding drug use
Substance Abuse Treatment for Men
Men and women often form an addiction to drugs or alcohol for different reasons. Both also experience mental health issues differently, so a one-size-fits-all approach to addiction recovery may not truly help a man battling addiction.
How Addiction Treatment Differs for Men
There are many differences in the experience of drug abuse in men and women, and gender-specific treatment provides a platform to dive into these unique issues facing men. For example, men face slower progress from initial drug use to addiction.
In an all-male setting, men become more open to discussing sensitive topics such as physical and sexual abuse. While these topics are often considered taboo in male social groups, deeper feelings can be shared amongst peers without any judgment or pressure to fit into society’s notions of men.
Therapy for Men
Addiction therapy helps the patient identify the foundational beliefs they hold about themselves, allowing them to confront trauma and find healthier methods of coping with difficult emotions.
Group therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) often show up in treatment programs due to their high success rates. Therapy can teach men to be vulnerable with other men and allow them to focus inward without fear of judgment.
Treatment Programs for Men
Treatment usually falls under inpatient treatment, residential treatment, Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP), and Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP). Although other variations of these programs may exist in your area, they typically follow a similar format.
Inpatient treatment happens in a special hospital wing or at a separate medical facility, providing medical detox if necessary. In both inpatient and residential treatment, patients stay on campus for the duration of the treatment. Still, this option is usually reserved for more serious cases of addiction where patients may be a risk to themselves.
PHP and IOP include treatment during the day, allowing the patient to return home at night. Should medical detox be necessary, PHP can provide those services where IOP does not. Men-focused treatment programs are available in these formats but focus on men-only programming and employ male healthcare providers.
Support Groups for Men
Support groups offer additional support, especially once treatment concludes. With peer support, recovering addicts can connect with like-minded men who face similar obstacles and help them feel less alone in a judgment-free setting.
These support groups offer men-specific resources that may be of great help:
- AA (Alcoholics Anonymous): AA has 12-step programs to help participants achieve abstinence from alcohol. Once founded on Christian principles, AA is now considered secular and welcomes people from all belief systems.
- SMART Recovery and Moderation Management: These groups offer a secular, non-12-step approach to sobriety and management, with many chapters offering men-only groups.
Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders
In many cases, men struggling with addiction also battle mental illnesses or other health conditions. Often, the inability to treat these illnesses leads to addictive behaviors in the first place.
If mental health issues or medical concerns contribute to a woman’s craving to use, treating those co-occurring disorders is imperative to freedom from addiction.
Treatment programs aim to address addiction and any existing or unknown illnesses. If you suspect another condition contributes to the addiction in yourself or a loved one, make sure to mention those concerns to your doctor or a trained professional at your chosen treatment center.
Addiction Treatment & Help For Men With Addictions
Men with substance abuse disorders don’t have to suffer in silence.
There are treatment options available for you or a male loved one. Just visit SAMHSA’s online treatment locator at https://findtreatment.gov or call (800) 662-4357 to learn what programs are in your area and ready to help.
FAQs About Addiction in Men
What causes men to develop an addiction?
Gender-based expectations for what constitutes “masculine” behavior can put men at an added risk of drug or alcohol abuse. Many men are raised to believe that seeking help shows weakness rather than strength.
Because there is a higher value put on solving one’s own problems, many men turn to substances to address their struggles rather than medical or mental health treatment.
How is addiction treatment different for men?
Because many men have been raised to voice addiction treatment as “weak,” men-focused programs seek to address these complex social aspects of male addiction. These treatment plans help shift people’s views about their addiction and treatment.
What issues do men face in addiction recovery?
Many men can feel weak or a failure by agreeing to enter rehab. This attitude slows progress and can ultimately lead to program abandonment and relapse.
Are men more likely to develop an addiction?
Yes. Men are 2-3 times more likely to develop alcohol or drug addiction than women, although their addiction tends to develop more slowly.