A Man’s Problem
Part of the reason why women may have struggled getting information about addiction is that historically, drug and alcohol abuse was seen as a “man’s problem,” even though female physiology renders women more at-risk for intoxication than men. It has only been relatively recently, since women have entered the workforce en masse, that the issue of women being problem drinkers has arisen.
Nonetheless, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drug and alcohol addiction is more prevalent among men than it is women. Men are two times more likely than women to develop a drug problem; and in the case of alcohol, men are three times more likely than women to develop such a problem.
This may be due to the fact that even though women have a lower drinking threshold, alcohol ignites a greater sense of pleasure in male brains than it does in women’s brains. A study conducted by researchers at Columbia and Yale Universities found that alcohol caused a greater release of the dopamine neurotransmitter in the brains of male test subjects, giving them stronger feelings of being rewarded for their activity. It is the same concept behind why people experience good, positive sensations after an enjoyable activity, and why addicts are drawn back to a particular act.
While men primarily drink to boost their positive moods, they also self-medicate to cope with social problems that may be unique to their gender, especially ones that go unreported and underestimated. Issues like depression, domestic violence, concerns of gender identity, sexual health, and custody rights are often covered and marketed from a female perspective, and with good reason — however, men are often left with no voice in the debate and an unwillingness to raise the issue, both for fear of appearing unmanly and giving an impression of being misogynistic.
Standard practices of sober living homes for residents include:
- Submitting to random urine tests
- Submitting to random searches for evidence of substance abuse
- Holding down a job or going to school
- Paying rent on time
- Adhering to curfew
- Attending regular support meetings
These dynamics give sober men the sense of organization and clarity they need for keeping the compulsion to drink at bay. The first three months following discharge from a treatment center are the most likely time for a relapse to occur, so it is vital that this time is spent with people who can support and encourage the patient in a way that is insightful and empathetic.
It is also important that the patient be in an environment where the culture of drugs or alcohol is not present. For some heterosexual men, controlling and restricting interactions with women might remove the temptation to use alcohol as part of a courtship ritual (where alcohol has been shown to have a strong causal relationship in “disinhibited” sexual behavior).
The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs conducted a study of 245 people who entered a sober living house after finishing treatment. Seventy-seven percent of that population were men, with most of them reporting that jail or prison accounted for their normal housing situation for the preceding six months. The authors of the study found “positive [long term] outcomes” for the study population: everything from lowered relapse rates, lowered incarceration rates, and increased mental health status. Participants who attended regular 12-step meetings had much better alcohol and drug outcomes, as well as better reports on their overall mental health.
Ultimately, any man’s recovery is about the emotional support and care he receives from the people who look up to him.