Men and women experience addiction and recovery differently, that is no secret. Why, then, is there so much literature on a woman’s experience and journey through recovery but a serious lack of the same information for men? Well, whatever the case may be, it is high time for that to change. If you have been looking for resources and the information you need to succeed, you have come to the right place. Let us take an in-depth look at the challenges that men across America are facing as they work through addiction and recovery. There is no better way to celebrate men than to take a look at how the journey unravels for fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, and men in general.
Whose Problem Is It, Really?
The world has recently become obsessed with women’s perspectives on everything, right? From mommy blogs expressing only women’s views on parenting to life and decision-making as a single parent (mother) topics trending like wildfire, so it is no secret that the women’s perspective on addiction has made huge progress, but it is not the whole story. For a long time, addiction was seen as a man’s problem, so it is not surprising that with rates of addiction and drug epidemics spouting up that the focus on women has run wild but the bottom line is this, addiction is a man’s problem.
You see, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Alcoholism has studied the prevalence of addiction between men and women and it is no shocker that men are much more likely to experience addiction than women. In fact, the numbers add up to men being twice as likely to experience drug addiction over their lifetime than women are. When looking at alcohol dependence, that number jumps to three times as likely.
It is interesting that due to the physiology of women, they are prone to intoxication at lower levels, that is true. However, studies show that the male brain is affected differently, that at least when it comes to alcohol, the male brain gains a higher sense of pleasure over a woman’s brain. At least, that is what one study, published in the journal of Biological Psychiatry revealed. Researchers at Yale and Columbia used PET (positron emission tomography) scans to unveil that dopamine released due to alcohol consumption was greater in men than women and was found in one of the pleasure centers of the brain, the ventral striatum (Urban, N., et al, 2010).
Recovery And The Male Addict
Educating yourself and getting a good understanding on why men are affected by addiction is a good start but only represents half the battle. Knowing how to treat the problem is the other half, let us dive deeper into why men experience addiction in the first place. For many men, addiction does not just happen overnight, it is a process that happens over time. However, it often starts when men have an issue that challenges their identity and masculinity. That is why it is important to find treatment that includes therapy designed to help you understand your gender better but also focus on learning a positive, balanced, and healthy approach to recovery as a man.
There are so many treatment options available today which is a huge improvement over the past when treatment was kept quiet and hard to come by. There are even treatment centers that focus on the male perspective for your benefit and even many luxury alcohol rehabs that are dedicated to giving you the best treatment according to your gender.
What Kinds Of Experiences Might You Have In Recovery?
Treatment can happen under many circumstances, sometimes it is with pressure from the courts, against your will, but ultimately, the choice is yours on what you do with the information, learning skills, and coping techniques you learn in recovery.
One such way facilities and programs are offering men a unique take on recovery is through the use of cognitive behavioral therapy which has been shown to be effective both as a treatment in itself and as used as part of combined therapies. The basis for CBT is that it helps patients and clients find the root of their problems, by helping them recognize thought patterns that are disruptive, harmful, or negative and re-frame them to eliminate self-destructive behavior (NCBI, 2010).
Here’s What You Can Expect To Focus On In Therapy, Maybe.
Individual counseling and therapy, especially with the cognitive behavioral approach is going to take you down paths and roads that are ultimately unique to you and your situation but as a male, you may touch on similar topics. A great therapist will take your needs and desires of therapy into consideration and meet you where you are at, to help you travel down your unique path to healing. As a man, some of the topics covered in your therapy sessions may uncover questions relating to your masculinity, how it has been compromised, challenged, or why it is even such an all-encompassing concept when it comes to why you ended up addicted.
Connections for you will become clearly defined, for helping you learn how to un-connect or un-learn these harmful thoughts. For instance, there is a culture of silence in our nation when it comes to men. Men are taught not to cry, not to show emotion, weakness, or to be “needy.” As such, a “cry for help” for a man in recovery may be something he never thought even possible. After all, showing a sign of weakness like that could threaten your masculinity. Over the course of CBT, you’ll learn to stop associating those harmful societal pressures bestowed on you and learn how to ask for help when you need dignity intact.
What About Group Therapy?
Any great addiction center is going to provide you with a slough of therapies designed to meet your needs and give you the best chance of recovery. One therapy that is shown to help people of all genders is group therapy. Combining talk therapy with peer support is one of the best ideas to happen in addiction ever, it just works. That being said, there is a range of topics that can make it tough for men to share in open groups that contain both men and women.
If you find yourself in a men’s only treatment program, it may make things easier though the fear of sharing does not disappear altogether. Let us face it, addiction is a sore subject, it brings about the worst in people and can lead to terrible and embarrassing experiences, right? Addiction ravages the mind and body alike, so if you are a man in treatment you might need to talk about difficult subjects like sexual impotency or experiences we are not proud of sharing.
Combined with individual therapy though, you should feel a sense of relief over time at being able to share on these hard topics with those around you who are not only non-judgmental but who may have also experienced similar experiences as you have.
Don’t Forget The Family
Okay, so your family might be one of those aforementioned subjects, am I right? However, family dynamics play a huge role in addiction. You know what they say, right? Every addict has a family who loves them and wants to see them get better. Ah, that’s true. But, what you don’t hear many people say is that every addict has a family dynamic that may be contributing to their addiction. Ouch, I might get into some hot water for saying that, but it’s true. Are there people whose addictions have absolutely nothing to do with their family, sure. But, often what we find is that addiction is routed in the entire family, everyone is part of the dynamic, everyone plays a role.
By saying that everyone plays a role, it’s not meant that any one much less any of the family is at fault by any means, it simply means that families are uniquely strung into addiction and the whole thing becomes a complicated mess of dynamics. Families play huge negative and positive roles in addiction, that’s why there are so many programs designed to include the family.
There’s tons of literature out there that suggests the nature of the family in addiction is a huge force to be reckoned with. Families are needed for support, getting them on board with treatment as a team is often what helps prevent relapse. It’s known that, when an addict receives treatment, going back to home life with a family who hasn’t been addressed or treated, can be a huge predictor and trigger a relapse. Families are often highly interdependent with studies suggesting that in as many as 50% of cases there is an ideal desire for triangulation between parents and offspring and just about 50% of those cases are working towards a reversal of the hierarchy. Meaning that therapists and counselors really have to consider the relationships that patients and clients have within their families, if they want to provide the best support and environment for success (Journal for Counseling and development, 1987).
So, What’s Best For Me After Treatment?
So, now you know how men and women are affected differently by addiction and a little about why those reasons are so important. You’ve also learned about treatment options and a little more about what kinds of things you might experience in treatment. You learned about why your family plays a vital role in your recovery, now what? Well, addiction doesn’t just end with treatment, right? Of course not, that would be way too easy! Depending on your unique journey, there’s going to be a lot more work you have to do on an ongoing basis, recovery is a lifelong process and you have to find out what your recovery means to you.
While you’re figuring that out, you’re probably (read: should definitely be) receiving some aftercare services, which will more than likely be discussed and planned with you in the discharge planning phase of your treatment. After care services are those you get after treatment, they can range from going to outpatient therapy, entering a sober living situation, or setting up counseling and other therapies to keep your recovery going strong.
It’s in this part of recovery that you should really focus on building your support network. You know that a support network is going to be the net that makes sure you don’t fall too far down should you find yourself stumbling in recovery. The harder you work to build that net into a strong force that never let’s you down, the better.
Here you thought you were getting ready to leave the structure of inpatient treatment behind!
It is true, you were probably looking forward to leaving behind the structure and rigidity of inpatient treatment. For the most part, you will not be under wraps like you were before, after all, it is time to spread your wings and fly. It’s also a sensitive time for men in recovery, going back to home life may mean that things surface, old temptations are back in play and familiar struggles and triggers. That is why the best thing you can do for yourself is to make a conscious decision to devote your time and energy to continued education, time, and healing.
As a man navigating recovery, you have got the tools you need to succeed inside you, so do not forget to keep fostering your own abilities and digging deeper, discovering new things about yourself and the world around you. Keep working on those tough topics you dug up in therapy and continue to make the progress your own masculinity would be proud of.