While addiction is not a gender specific disease, it does affect men and women differently. More men are diagnosed with chemical dependency (addiction) than women, although studies have yet to clarify whether this due to biology or society. The addiction community does acknowledge that men face unique gender challenges that make them more susceptible to substance abuse.
Men begin using substances at an earlier age, and use more often.
Society tolerates, even encourages, men to partake in risky behavior. Such acceptance combined with a biological/psychological need to prove manliness is a recipe for substance abuse. Regardless of gender, substance use at earlier ages and frequent use put people at higher risk for addiction.
More than half of men who struggle with addiction also have another mental illness.
Men who have depression, bi-polar disorder, PSTD, or other mental illnesses are less likely to seek treatment than the women with the same illnesses. They instead turn to mind-altering substances to self-medicate. Often the substances worsen the disease, and the person in unable to regulate his or her use. This is why more than half of men with addictions are diagnosed with a dual disorder, or two mental illnesses (chemical dependency and another). It does not help that men are less comfortable than women in expressing negative emotions such as guilt, shame, sadness, and low self-esteem, which can further isolate them.
Men have different health risks associated with addiction.
Statistically, men are at greater risk than women when it comes to medical problems associated with addiction. To start, men are more likely to experience organ failure, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, depression, and suicide. Specifically, excessive alcohol consumption decreases testosterone levels. With this decrease comes erectile dysfunction, infertility, and decreased libido, as well as decreased strength, bone density, and muscle mass. To top it off: Men with low testosterone have a 33% greater risk of death over their next eighteen years of life.
More men enter treatment, but not always in the right circumstances.
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 and often refuse treatment. 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.
Men who abuse substances have worse relationships.
Married men, or those in a committed relationship, are 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 risky sexual behaviors. Substance abuse often associates with incidents of infidelity. This increases the chances of contracting an STD or fathering an unwanted pregnancy. 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.
Links of Interest:
Bradford Health Services at The Reprieve