Gender Differences: How Do Men Experience Addiction?

Gender and Addiction

Gender and Addiction

Gender Differences in Substance Use

Men are more likely than women to misuse nearly all types of substances, and their use is considered more intense – they’re much more likely to overdose or find themselves in the emergency room. Research shows that men and women use and react to drugs differently, which is why it’s important to understand the gender differences inherent to substance use disorders.


How Men Experience Addiction

In general, men can be considered the more extreme of the genders with respect to their substance use. Men’s drug use is more severe, and they abuse illicit drugs at a higher rate than women. They take higher dosages of the substances and use them more often.

Men are 2.2 times more likely than women to abuse drugs, and 1.9 times more likely to have some sort of dependence on them. Over 12% of men over the age of 12 report drug use, while only 7.3% of women report the same. Behind these statistics are worrying consequences. Men experiencing addiction are more likely to develop a dependence on multiple drugs. They also report more co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, antisocial personality disorder, or other behavioral health concerns.

Beyond gender differences, there are also age differences in drug abuse. Male survey respondents report beginning their substance use at a younger age than female participants did. There are a few different theories explaining this phenomenon. The popular view today is that boys are exposed to drugs earlier and through their primarily male peer groups, creating increased opportunity for substance use. Typically, male peers are the source of access to illicit drugs for teenage girls as well.

Men’s experience of addiction is also markedly different from what is reported by women. While men begin using younger, they also become addicted at a markedly slower rate than women do. Women are especially susceptible to “telescoping” – an accelerated progression from initial use to quick dependence. This means that female substance use is characterized by faster addiction from lower amounts of the drug over a shorter time than that of their male counterparts.

Because men become dependent on substances more slowly and take larger dosages than women do, it can be challenging to convince them that they have an unmanageable problem and need to seek help. This is in part due to the fact that men have higher metabolisms and more water in their bodies than women; substances simply don’t affect them the same way. The good news is that men across the board find it easier to seek help for addiction, and generally experience positive outcomes from treatment.


Men’s Addiction Treatment

Just as gender differences are present in the overall experience of addiction, they’re also clear in recovery. Addiction was initially studied from a male perspective, meaning that facilities and prevention programs are generally tailored to benefit men. A great deal of research has been done to create effective programs for male clients struggling with substance use disorders.  Today, outreach and education seek to address the needs of men and women alike

Studies show that men are more likely to receive adequate treatment for their substance use and are also more likely to receive care at a specialized addiction treatment facility. This starkly contrasts with the statistics for women, which indicate preference for treatment through primary care providers rather than rehab facilities. In 2011, 67% of admissions to addiction treatment centers were male, while only 33% were female. Men are also less likely to relapse overall, indicating positive outcomes from their addiction treatment.

Gender-specific programs are among the most effective treatment methodologies for substance use disorders. Part of the reason for their success is the elimination of distractions – a single-gender environment is free of the social stress associated with attraction to (and interaction with) the opposite sex. This also liberates everyone in the context of a group discussion – men are free to discuss sensitive issues, particularly those dealing with sexuality, domestic violence, or past relationships.

Young men in particular face issues in treatment which are often unaddressed. At Spearhead Lodge, we discuss the issues of what it means to be a man in recovery very early in our process. Our gender-specific environment creates space to be vulnerable with peers, which can be daunting – if not nearly impossible – in a co-ed environment. We hope that through open conversation and mutual trust, our program will cultivate a community of young men who can openly rely on each other.

If you or a loved one could benefit from men’s addiction treatment, we encourage you to reach out to Spearhead Lodge today. Reclaim your potential with guided, customized treatment that puts your recovery first.