Gender is a social construct that affects almost every aspect of our lives. This includes how we interact with substances, how the substances affect us, and how we can best recover from substance use. Understanding the unique obstacles that come with recovery based on gender can be crucial in successfully navigating your recovery process and getting the help you need.
It’s important to note that while gender is fluid and not everybody fits in the binary group, most addiction-related topics still utilize binary. This is because those outside this group often have unique experiences that may not be as easily grouped. Thus, those that identify outside of the binary norm are encouraged to speak with a professional about the best course for their recovery.
Women and the Development of Addiction
Biologically speaking, there are a plethora of differences between women and men that account for the likelihood of developing substance use disorders (SUDs). Since women generally have less water in their bodies by volume and more body fat, alcohol is not as easily diluted in their system. This causes women to develop a dependence on alcohol faster and with fewer amounts of alcohol than men. Additionally, women are more likely to develop health issues related to substance use, such as breast cancer, and do so at a faster rate.
Additionally, women tend to feel more stigmatized concerning SUDs. Due to societal and cultural norms, women report more feelings of guilt and shame surrounding their substance use than men do. In society, women are supposed to be warm, nurturing, and motherly. By using substances, women jeopardize this image and therefore feel shamed by society. Partially because of this stigma, women are less likely to get help for their SUDs than men.
Another important factor to consider is that women are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and more. With this, women are more likely to have a co-occurring substance use disorder and mental health condition. Additionally, women are more likely to experience traumatic events in their lifetime, such as physical, verbal, or sexual abuse. Both mental health issues and trauma play a substantial role in the development of SUD. Therefore, treatment needs to be cognizant of these histories as well.
Women Addiction Treatment
Gender-specific treatment programs can be greatly beneficial in their approach to recovery. Women — especially those with a history of abuse — are more uncomfortable and less likely to open up when in the presence of men. In an environment full of supportive women that can empathize, women with SUD can feel more at ease and more willing to be vulnerable.
Additionally, many gender-specific programs for women offer trauma-informed therapy and spaces for women to work through the complex history surrounding their substance use. Typically, these programs are more cognizant of the role that trauma and other mental health conditions play in the recovery process. Thus, these programs are often the most successful among women.
Men and the Development of Addiction
Men are more likely than women to develop SUD and are more likely to use substances in greater quantities. In fact, men are five times more likely to develop SUD than women. Most of the reasons for this are socio-cultural. For starters, men often engage in activities and organizations that encourage substance use, such as fraternities. These institutions often use substances as mandatory rites of passage, which can lead to greater issues down the line.
Although men are more likely to develop a SUD, they’re less likely to seek treatment for it. The cultural reasons for this can be complicated; however, a primary reason is that substance use is more normalized among men, and seeking help is often portrayed as a sign of weakness. Men are expected to maintain strong exteriors and the vulnerability and submission that comes with asking for help jeopardize that image.
While they are less likely than women to experience sexual and physical abuse, many men still have a complicated history of trauma. Men are less likely to speak about their trauma for similar reasons as to why they’re less likely to seek help for substance use. Regardless of whether or not they speak on it, trauma will still undoubtedly affect their substance use and recovery. This is why it’s crucial that, while in treatment, men feel comfortable and safe enough to express themselves.
Men Addiction Treatment
Like women, men can greatly benefit from gender-specific treatments. Typically, treatments for men will emphasize practicing vulnerability, improving communication, and emotional regulation. It’s vital that treatment centers create a space for men where they feel like they can be vulnerable. This is why all-male groups can often be beneficial for those more reluctant to share.
Having positive behavior modeled by other men, in addition to peer support, can greatly affect a man’s willingness to explore their own emotions. It’s a space where men can work together to overcome the cultural pressures of maintaining a strong exterior.
While anyone can develop SUD or be affected by mental health issues, they can sometimes operate differently between men and women. By utilizing gender-specific treatment programs that account for these differences, we can create safe and supportive environments where individuals can feel comfortable. This comfort in vulnerability is key to having a successful recovery.
Gender affects every aspect of our lives and culture, and substance use is, unfortunately, no exception to that rule. Though substance use disorders can affect men and women differently, nobody should have to do it alone. At West Coast Recovery Centers, we understand the specific challenges that both men and women face when working toward recovery. Our professionals are ready and able to help you with whatever issues you may be facing. We use individual treatment plans for all of our clients, regardless of their gender, so that they can receive the most effective treatment. For more information on the services we offer, call our team of professionals today at (760) 492-6509.