The development of addiction is dependent on a variety of factors.
While the most common influences on addiction include biological and environmental factors, a user’s gender can play an equally impactful role in the development of experimentation and substance abuse. This stretches beyond hormonal differences in men and women, and encompasses the societal expectations that often influence behavior. Drug and alcohol addiction is consistently more common in men than in women for a variety of reasons. There are disparities in how drug addiction presents itself in men and a number of influences that may provide insight into the signs of drug addiction in men. While there are a number of common signs, such as secretive behavior, lack of interest in activities and changes in physical appearance, there are a number of gender-specific signs to consider when evaluating the possibility of drug addiction in men.
- Gender performance of masculinity. Societal expectations often lead men to act fearless, invulnerable or aggressive. To prove their masculinity and avoid showing signs of weakness, men may engage in more reckless behaviors. Common activities that men may engage in include binge drinking or experimentation with substances. Abuse of drugs and alcohol often leads to more aggressive behaviors and causes men to be more likely to engage in physical altercations. They may also engage in more extreme, daring activities or stunts. Substance abuse is often associated with increased risk-taking behavior which can put them and those around them in danger.
- Expectations to conform. Men may also feel pressure to conform to gender norms, which could lead to stress if the perception is that a male is not living up to expectations. The lack of confidence in a man’s identity can be a major influence in substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol become a means of relating to others and embodying different characteristics. These gender expectations can be restrictive and cause negative behaviors to develop that may not align with the nature or personality of an individual. This can be more common in young men transitioning into adulthood. The need to fit in and establish oneself can influence young men to engage in out-of-character behaviors.
- Restraining emotion. One common theme in male addict experiences is the idea that emotional expression or vulnerability is a sign of weakness. Many men may choose to suppress emotions to avoid appearing weak or fragile. Rather than seeking help, men may rely on drugs and alcohol as a method of coping with difficult situations and stress. Men are more likely than women to respond to emotional stress with drugs or alcohol.
- Biological factors. Men often have to use larger amounts of drugs and alcohol to feel the same effects as women who are using smaller amounts. This is largely due to differences in metabolism and biological makeup. Men may abuse drugs for longer periods of time before experiencing consequences as profoundly as women do earlier on. This can cause damaging consequences to physical, mental and emotional health and may make it more difficult for them to overcome addiction.
Drug and alcohol addiction rates are consistently higher in men than in women and their unique experiences often contribute to the development of dependency. Substance abuse in men often is a result of dealing with stress, negative emotions and gender expectations through a method that allows them to conceal vulnerability. These unique experiences make gender-specific therapies a critical component of drug addiction treatment. Men’s rehab centers are equipped to address gender-specific needs and provide men with a safe place to recover with others who share similar experiences.