Anyone can experience substance abuse. This insidious issue often starts as something simple and innocent. Making the most of the pandemic quarantines with daily drinks continues after lockdowns are over. Taking painkillers for an injured knee continues long after the initial pain has passed.
While everyone is at risk, men are particularly susceptible to substance abuse and often struggle more to get the help they need. Here are some important considerations for men facing substance abuse.
The Relationship Between Men and Substance Abuse
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive (SAMHDA), 7.7% of Americans (19.3 million) had a substance use disorder as of 2019. Of those people, 2 in 5 struggled with illicit drugs, 3 in 4 struggled with alcohol, and 1 in 9 struggled with both. Of those numbers, 11.5% of males aged 12 and over have a substance use disorder, compared to 6.4% of women and girls.
In other words, the number of men struggling with substance abuse is nearly double that of women. And it’s a well-known fact that substance abuse has increased exponentially since the beginning of the pandemic.
There is a bright spot to these scary numbers. Men tend to have greater success in recovery, with fewer incidents of relapsing. Attending Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings can have a positive impact. Yet, these considerations pose an important question: why are men so high risk?
Why Men are More Susceptible to Substance Abuse
A lot of the proposed reasons behind men’s susceptibility to substance abuse pertain to cultural and societal expectations and behaviors. Men are often more susceptible to peer pressure related to substance use for fear of appearing weak or “other.” Boys and men tend to be more open to substance use for the purpose of fitting in with their peers.
It’s also important to consider the societal perceptions of healthy emotional expression among males throughout their lives. Many men have been brought up with pressure and encouragement to suppress emotions rather than manage them appropriately. As trauma and emotional suppression have an integrated relationship with substance abuse, it should come as no surprise that societal expectations for men have led to this outcome.
Recognizing the Signs of Substance Abuse
Sometimes the hardest part of recovery is acknowledging that there’s a problem. Recognizing the signs of substance abuse or dependence in yourself can be challenging, thanks to the cognitive dissonance many people experience during addiction.
Your mind may tell you that you’re in control or that you can stop anytime. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Here are some common signs that you’re struggling with substance abuse.
Inability to Quit
If you feel like you can stop at any time, give it a try. If you are unable or unwilling to try, there’s an issue.
Unfortunately, many men do try to cut back or quit using alcohol or drugs with limited success. If you try to quit on your own and experience symptoms of withdrawal or struggle to maintain your sobriety in the face of social pressure, consider reaching out for additional support.
If you feel as though you need to be secretive about your consumption, it’s a sign that something is wrong. If you’re hiding how much you drink or the type or quantity of substances you’re using from friends, family, loved ones, employers, etc., it’s indicative of a dependency.
If you’re engaging in risky behavior that’s out of character while under the influence, it’s time to re-evaluate your relationship with substances. Things like driving, engaging in extramarital affairs, having impulsive, unprotected sex, and doing things that put you in danger are serious concerns.
If you’re doing things that scare you, cause regret, or cause relief when you’re sober, it’s time to re-evaluate your relationships with substances.
While risky behavior often leads to dire consequences, this element deserves a category of its own. If your substance use is putting your job, financial health, physical health, or relationships at risk, it’s time to reach out for support. For example, if you’re too hungover to go to work or keep getting in fights with your spouse while drinking, your life is being negatively impacted by substance use.
Another sign that your relationship with alcohol or drugs has devolved is increased tolerance. If you need higher doses or more drinks to get the same effect you used to, you’re on a scary trajectory.
Overcoming Resistance in Seeking Support
Many of the reasons men are more susceptible to addiction are also the reasons they’re more resistant to asking for help.
Men tend to have more of a relationship between personal perception and finances. If your financial situation is dire as a result of substance use, whether directly through purchasing it or job loss, it can be deeply distressing to admit. It’s important to understand that there is a way out of this if you ask for support.
As mentioned previously, men also tend to feel more shame around perceptions of weakness. Feeling emotions or admitting that you need help fall into this issue. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak; it makes you stronger. This resistance also leads to a sense of isolation, as men don’t see their peers asking for help. Know that other men are going through these issues too.
Finally, there’s the fear of rejection and the fear of acceptance. Many men fear that the people they love will reject them when they learn about their substance abuse. At the same time, there’s fear around looking in the mirror and accepting the truth about having a problem.
If you recognize these barriers within yourself, understand that they’re completely normal responses and that the only way out is through.
What to Do Next
If you notice signs of addiction, reach out for support. Tell someone you trust what you’re experiencing and seek a professional opinion. Know that going through treatment is a process, but it can be effective. Embrace the process and dive into your experience.
You may have to create boundaries for yourself and others as you navigate the journey ahead. Use this opportunity to find new interests and hobbies that support your recovery.
When things get tough— because they will— rely on your support system and keep moving forward.