Studies have demonstrated that men are more at risk than women for certain health conditions such as heart disease, lung cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. It’s common for people to be curious why men—or adversely women—are more susceptible to developing particular health problems. The reasons for this vary based on a number of factors which can include anatomy, hormones, genes, culture, socioeconomics, and behavior. In addition to being at higher risk for specific health diseases and disorders, did you know that substance abuse affects men and women differently?
This June, National Men’s Health Month presents an opportune time to learn how substance abuse disorders (SUD) impact men. It’s an important area of study and valuable for spreading awareness. For example, research shows that men are more likely than women to use almost all types of illicit drugs, resulting in more emergency department visits and overdose deaths. In fact, two-thirds of the 47,600 opioid-related deaths reported in 2017 were attributed to men. And, men are more prone to using illicit drugs and alcohol at a younger age.
In addition to illicit drugs, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is also more likely among males, as is the risk for developing a co-occurring disorder (SUD or AUD combined with mental illness). And, because of their increased risk of developing SUD and AUD, men raise their likelihood for health and safety hazards (which we will explore in greater detail).
At Futures Recovery Healthcare, we help men and women with substance use disorders (SUDs) and alcohol use disorders (AUD) by providing multiple pathways of addiction recovery. If you or someone you love is hurting, there is hope! Many people successfully navigate sobriety, going on to live productive, vibrant, and healthy lives.
Substance Use Among Males in the U.S.
The rate of developing substance dependence in men is twice as likely to occur in men than in women. In addition to a higher probability of using illicit drugs, studies have illuminated that men are more likely to drink excessively, resulting in higher rates of alcohol-related deaths.
But, what else have evidence-based scientific explorations yielded about how substance use impacts men in particular? Actually, there is quite a bit of information on this topic. For instance, the National Institue on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published a report exploring sex and gender differences in substance use, which revealed:
- More males use marijuana than their female counterparts.
- Male high school students using marijuana reported more problems at school and poor family relationships compared with female students of the same age.
- Compared with women, men tend to use greater amounts of heroin for longer lengths of time.
- Men are more likely to inject heroin than women.
- 27 men compared with 19 women overdosed per day from prescription opioids.
In addition to revealing what types of substances men use and with what frequency, additional sex, and gender substance abuse studies show that:
- More men engage in drug use and risky behaviors to be accepted in a group than women.
- Addiction to alcohol and drugs escalates slower among men than women.
- Men exhibit worse symptoms of alcohol withdrawal than women.
- Men have an increased rate of alcohol-related hospitalizations than women.
- Male drivers are 50% more likely to have been intoxicated in fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes (having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more) compared with women.
Additionally, excessive alcohol use among males increases sexual and reproductive health problems. Research shows that alcohol can disrupt testicular function and male hormone production, the outcome of which leads to erectile dysfunction and infertility. Alcohol abuse can also boost the risk for risky sexual behaviors (like unprotected sex) upping the chance of contracting a sexually transmitted infection.
Why SUD Affects Men Differently From Women
As we briefly mentioned, differences in sex and their relationship to SUD do not have to be observed solely based on biology or sociocultural influences. Rather, biological, sociocultural, developmental, and environmental factors can be taken into account in the way we perceive SUD impacting men and women.
For example, the “Addressing the Specific Behavioral Health Needs of Men” guide published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), explores the stereotypical roles defining men within certain cultures. And, in doing so, reveals the complex relationship between men and substance use (and abuse.) The findings specific to substance use and abuse highlighted that:
- Many conventional “manhood rituals” in the United States are closely interlinked with excessive use of alcohol.
- It’s not uncommon for men to buy into the stigma that expressing emotion is an inherent feminine characteristic, and therefore, engage in substance use as a way to divert expressing emotion.
- Pressure to compete or failing at competition can lead to substance abuse.
- A response to “winning,” or an accomplishment may also lead to overindulgence in substances.
- Men are significantly more likely to respond to social stress by drinking alcohol (compared with women.)
- The use of substances may be linked with mens’ desire to fulfill stigmatized male gender roles relating to power, dominance, and control.
- Substance use can be a means of bonding for males and their friends.
What Does Substance Abuse Look Like for Men?
For the most part, substance abuse symptoms act as “equal opportunity offenders,” meaning that SUDs and alcohol disorders (AUD) produce the same symptoms and side effects for all people (regardless of sex, age, etc.) Symptoms of SUD and AUD include:
- Using excessive amounts of substances or drinking excessively.
- Drinking and/or using substances daily.
- Binging when you do drink or use substances.
- Experiencing strong cravings for drugs or alcohol.
- Having uncomfortable and even debilitating hangovers.
- Isolating from friends and family.
- Avoiding obligations (work, financial responsibilities, etc.) in favor of using substances.
- Driving while under the influence.
- Spending money on alcohol and/or drugs rather than bills and other financial responsibilities.
- Feeling sick (nausea), anxious, or experiencing other symptoms of withdrawal when not drinking alcohol or using drugs.
- Hiding drinking and drug use.
- Lying about the amount, duration of drinking or drug use.
- Showing behavioral or physical changes (not sleeping, sleeping too much, gaining or losing too much weight.)
- Neglecting personal hygiene and appearance.
- Demonstrating difficulty concentrating or focusing.
It’s important to understand that this is by no means an exhaustive list of SUD and AUD symptoms. And, that if you or your loved one has a co-occurring disorder, they are likely to have additional symptoms and side effects of substance use. It’s also quite common for people who have an addiction to exhibit more than one (often several) of the symptoms listed above.
Screening for SUD in Men
During an assessment for SUD treatment, clinicians may focus on screening for:
- Background factors that may have contributed to substance use (family dynamics, scenarios, etc.)
- Patterns of use (how much of a substance is used and how often.)
- Symptoms and side effects of substance use.
- Outcomes and consequences of substance use.
In addition to examining these factors, physical and mental health will be evaluated, as well as current life circumstances (employment, relationship dynamics, housing status, legal issues, and past trauma.)
To ensure a proper diagnosis (SUD, AUD, and/or co-occurring disorders) and a personalized treatment plan, it’s especially important to be screened by a medical professional skilled and trained in addiction and addiction treatment.
SUD Treatment for Men
Current studies show that more men than women are in treatment for substance use disorders. However, despite the fact that men currently hold more space in treatment for addiction, barriers exist in terms of seeking help. For example, because of the stigmas and cultural expectations of men (that we briefly touched upon earlier), men may find it more difficult to ask for help. Instead, males with SUD may feel an obligation to handle their “problems” independently.
Men may also consider asking for help for addiction as a sign of weakness, finding it challenging to identify and own their SUD (and its consequences.) Nothing, however, can be further from the truth. In fact, NIDA states that:
“Despite popular belief, willpower alone is often insufficient to overcome an addiction. Drug use has compromised the very parts of the brain that make it possible to ‘say no.’”
Furthermore, evidence states that in accepting treatment for SUD, many men and women are able to manage their addiction successfully. It helps to compare addiction and addiction treatment alongside other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. Provided a person addresses his/her health problem with the aid of professional guidance, and continues a plan of recovery, he/she can—and will likely—remain sober.
At Futures, we understand the challenges and complexities that come with SUD. We have helped countless men (and women) achieve healthy and lasting recovery for both SUDs, AUDs, and mental health disorders. Our licensed recovery professionals have decades of experience in a variety of recovery-focused treatment approaches. We offer both inpatient detoxification and residential treatment, and outpatient services
Many people suffering from addiction go on to live fulfilling, joyful, and productive lives. Start your journey today.
Hope is a phone call away. Contact us confidentially online or by phone at 866-804-2098.