Although gender-based differences in substance abuse patterns have been declining, men are still significantly more likely than women to develop an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Understanding the factors that can make men vulnerable to addiction can help you better determine the type of care your loved one needs.
5 Reasons Men Are Vulnerable to Addiction
There is no single factor that causes someone to develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Experts believe it is a complex interaction between genetic risk factors and environmental triggers. However, gender-based expectations for what constitutes “masculine” behavior can put men at an added risk of drug or alcohol abuse.
1. Men Have Tolerant Attitudes Towards Substance Abuse
According to the book Men and Addictions, men tend to view substance abuse less negatively than women. They often associate drinking to excess and experimenting with illicit drugs as a rite of passage or a sign of manly behavior.
In comparison, women tend to see substance use as behavior that is incompatible with feminine caregiving and family responsibilities. They may also view substance abuse as behavior that could place them at risk of sexual assault or cause them to be viewed negatively by the people around them.
2. Toxic Masculinity Makes Men More Vulnerable to Peer Pressure
The term toxic masculinity is used to refer to socially constructed ideas about what it means to be a man that have a negative overall effect on a man’s wellbeing. This includes the belief that behaviors traditionally identified as feminine are inherently weak and undesirable.
The pressure to be seen as masculine by their peer group can push men to consume addictive substances more frequently than they would on their own. Over time, peer pressure can lead to an addiction in an individual who has genetic vulnerabilities or other risk factors for developing a substance use disorder.
In comparison, women who struggle with addiction often report that substance abuse began as a way to self-medicate negative mental health symptoms. However, pressure from intimate partners does often play a role in the development of substance use disorders among women.
3. Men Are More Likely to Externalize Their Emotions
Fear, anger, disappointment, and frustration are natural parts of the human experience. However, processing these emotions in a healthy way can be a challenge for many individuals.
According to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 2011, men are more likely to externalize negative emotions. This leads to behavior that is aggressive, impulsive, and coercive. The study, which looked at the behaviors of over more than 43,000 adults, found that this tendency was linked to higher rates of substance abuse disorders.
In addition to increasing the risk of substance abuse, externalizing negative emotions is problematic because it can lead to reckless driving, physical disputes, and other acts that cause self-harm. In extreme cases, troubled men may make deliberate suicide attempts.
4. Men Tend to Have Weaker Social Ties
Strong connections with other people play a tremendous role in an individual’s mental health. Close friends give you someone to talk to after a bad day. When you tell them your problems, they offer a balanced perspective on what’s troubling you. They provide protection against loneliness and isolation. If they see you’re struggling, they intervene and try to help.
Unfortunately, men are less likely than women to have these types of strong social ties. Male friendships often center on shared interests and activities, as opposed to talking about feelings or daily struggles.
For many men, their spouse is their primary source of emotional support. Unfortunately, if the marriage dissolves, this places a man at a high risk of substance abuse. Psychology Today notes that substance abuse among men is often linked to the stress of divorce or unemployment.
5. Men Are Often Reluctant to Ask for Help
Addiction is a progressive illness. The signs of a problem with substance abuse can be easy to miss at first. Men who have been conditioned to believe they can solve their problems on their own may stay in denial about their substance abuse until a crisis situation pushes them to seek treatment. A reluctance to ask for help with personal problems is especially common in the veteran community, which contributes to the high rate of substance use disorders in this demographic group.
In comparison, women are typically more open to asking for help with problems in all areas of their lives. This willingness to seek expert assistance often results in earlier intervention—placing women on the road to recovery before a crisis situation occurs.
Men with substance abuse disorders don’t have to suffer in silence. Help is available. Waypoint Recovery Center provides personalized care to fit each client’s unique needs, offering both inpatient residential treatment and an intensive outpatient program. Family therapy is also provided to strengthen the support system necessary to promote lasting sobriety.