While addiction is not a gender specific disease, it does affect men and women differently. It may be difficult to determine whether these facts about men and the consequences of addiction are due to biology or society, but it does provide a context that can help us better understand why men are twice as likely to develop substance abuse issues compared to women.
1. Men begin using substances at an earlier age and have more of an opportunity to use drugs.
They are also three to four times more likely to engage in problem drinking or develop alcoholism. The question is why? One possible explanation is that men “behaving badly” are more tolerated than women exhibiting similar behaviors. Since it is more accepted, men are also more encouraged to partake in risky behavior, such as substance abuse, as a way to demonstrate masculinity.
2. More than half of men who struggle with addiction also have some form of mental illness.
It is not uncommon for men who experience depression to abuse substances as a form of coping. Since men tend to be less comfortable expressing negative emotions such as guilt, shame, sadness, and low self-esteem, they are more inclined to act out and exhibit reckless behavior including drug and alcohol abuse. If we were more accepting of men expressing their emotions and better equipped men to process rather than avoid their feelings, we may make eliminate an important trigger of addiction among males.
3. Men have different health risks associated with addiction.
While substance abuse poses significant health risks for men and women, men are at a greater risk for experiencing medical problems associated with addiction, such as organ failure, cirrhosis, and pancreatitis. Men actually have a much higher rate of suicide than women and substance abuse exacerbates that tendency. The motivations for suicide are varied and complex, but it is safe to say poor coping skills lead to substance abuse, and addiction further degrades our ability to cope with daily life. Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of prostate cancer and lowers testosterone. It may not surprise you to learn that low testosterone levels can lead to a decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, and infertility, but not everyone realizes it can also decrease a man’s strength, bone density, and muscle mass. Most alarmingly, men with low testosterone have a 33 percent greater risk of death over their next 18 years of life compared with men who have normal or slightly higher hormone levels.
4. Men’s substance abuse is more apparent than women’s.
According to SAMHSA, Men are 2.3 times more likely than women to enter treatment for their addiction. Unfortunately, they also more frequently enter treatment through the criminal justice system. When criminal justice admissions are excluded, the gap between relative numbers of admissions shrinks. The good news is that men are more likely to seek treatment, and the bad is that they are more frequently incarcerated than women.
5. Men who abuse substances have worse relationships.
Men who are married or in a committed relationship are much more likely to successfully complete treatment, but in general, substance abuse compromises a man’s ability to be a good father and partner. Anyone who abuses alcohol and drugs is more likely to engage in unprotected sex or risky sexual behaviors. This increases the chances of contracting an STD or fathering an unwanted pregnancy. Also, incidents of infidelity are often associated with substance abuse. Men who suffer from addiction are twice as likely not to pay child support and are more likely to become emotionally or physically abusive. While exact estimates vary, anywhere from a quarter to fifty percent of men who commit acts of violence have substance abuse issues. If left untreated, addiction can lead to separation or divorce, which often leads to increased substance abuse.