Addiction can develop for numerous reasons and addressing all of those factors is critical to successful recovery. One of the most often overlooked components of addiction treatment is the element of gender. Gender-specific issues are overwhelming influences in the development of addiction and can also play a role in the likelihood of relapse. Addressing gender-specific issues in rehab for men or women specifically can help strengthen the recovery process.
Men’s needs in recovery are different from women’s needs. While there is some overlap, the experience of addiction itself is different and the recovery process requires focus on distinctive topics. Men and women are different physically, emotionally, and mentally. Their environments and experience of societal pressures can influence them differently. These gender-specific experiences must be explored in treatment to help men better understand how societal expectations may affect how they view themselves and the nature of their addiction.
Addiction in Men
Societal expectations of gender performance often play the biggest role in the development of addiction in men. From a young age, men are made to feel like they must suppress their emotions to avoid appearing weak. Almost everyone has heard the phrase “boys don’t cry” and this message teaches young men that they must simply get over something and “toughen up”. Instead of expressing how they feel, their fear of being viewed as weak can make them bottle up their emotions and not work through them. Men typically experience high rates of depression, anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem because they are unable to freely express how they feel or what they need. Rather than reaching out, they often turn inward and use drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. This is why dual-diagnosis treatment program is extremely beneficial for men in addiction recovery.
The concept of masculinity also contributes greatly to the development of addiction. Men are more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors and act out in an attempt to prove their masculinity to others. This can be an internal motivator or in response to feeling emasculated by others. Men tend to be more likely to use large quantities of substances in a short period of time because of these influences, increasing the risk of overdose or emergency room-related events.
These factors also make the existence of addiction in men less stigmatized. In a way, men are judged less harshly than women when they struggle with an addiction, making it easier to fall into addictive behaviors. Additionally, men do not tend to view drugs or alcohol in the same light as women do (some of this may be due to social stigmas of substance abuse between the genders), making them more likely to experiment with illicit substances.
Men’s Needs in Recovery
Providing gender-specific treatment can help remove barriers that are created by gender performance expectations. In mixed groups, it can be difficult to discuss gender-specific topics, let down one’s guard, and can even prove distracting for some. The needs of men and women in recovery are different and providing a safe space to explore difficult topics helps the healing process.
For men in recovery, gender-specific treatment helps by:
- Removing expectations: In order for recovery to be successful, you must be open and honest with yourself and those around you. This requires someone to be vulnerable and may leave them feeling exposed. In mixed groups, it can be difficult to drop your guard in fear of being emasculated. Vulnerability is often equated to a sign of weakness (even though it is not) and men may feel hesitant to open themselves up in mixed groups. In gender-specific therapy, men can freely discuss issues they face as a gender, making it easier to share feelings and discuss sensitive topics.
- Honest conversations: Along the same line, being in a gender-specific group can make it easier to express oneself without feeling judged. In a room with others who share similar experiences, you are more likely to open up. Groups made solely of men may make members feel more comfortable and safer in sharing experiences because other members of the group are more likely to understand them.
- Reducing distractions: While this is not a problem for everyone in recovery, mixed gender groups can introduce complicated feelings and distractions. Recovery should be spent focusing on yourself and your own needs in treatment. When potential romantic interests develop, it can distract from the process and make it difficult to heal. The development of romantic relationships in recovery are not encouraged because it can cause a person to not prioritize their recovery and can be a devastating blow to sobriety should something negative happen.
- Gender-specific topics: Men are more affected by some influences than women. For example, a male-specific group can explore themes of masculinity, aggression, abuse, and peer pressure in a way that is unique to their gender. Some of these topics can be difficult to talk about in mixed groups and more detailed exploration of these topics can be completed with only men.
- Bonding with others: A strong peer network of sober individuals is critical to successful recovery. Gender-specific treatment allows men to bond with others who share similar experiences and can grow in recovery together. They can support one another during difficult times and more readily relate to the experiences of one another. By participating in therapy and group activities together, these groups are able to form a strong bond that is beneficial both in the recovery space and in life after treatment.
While gender-specific therapy does not guarantee success, it does improve recovery outcomes. Studies show that gender-specific programs have higher rates of success than others because it creates better lines of communication, explores meaningful topics in a deeper way, encourages members to focus on topics that are unique to their experiences, and encourages bonding with others in the group. Whether you are considering residential treatment, or an outpatient treatment program, it is important that gender-specific needs are being met and addressed.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.