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What are the biggest obstacles to recovery for men in particular? That’s a fitting question to explore during Men’s Health Month. Below I’ll lay out some of the more common trends among the male client population that I treat, revealing a number of obstacles to recovery that as a more general rule tend to affect men more than women:
Men are more inclined than women to leave a significant relationship, like a marriage, to go full throttle into addiction. I’ve found from experience that women more typically have or feel bound by caregiving responsibilities—for example, they may be taking care of kids and balancing work and motherhood. They therefore feel like they have to hide their addiction in order to function and work. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to leave the relationship in order to pursue their addiction.
How is this trend an obstacle to recovery? Immediate family relationships can be a critical lifeline, a key source of motivation to get healthy and pursue recovery. Addiction thrives in isolation and alienation, after all— so the more physically and emotionally disconnected you are, the harder it can be to come to terms with a substance abuse problem and find the courage and support you need in order to get help.
Men in active addiction tend to display anti-social behavior, like robbing and stealing, which gets them arrested. Among women who are in the throes of active addiction, prostitution is a more frequent last resort; but men tend to resort to other anti-social behaviors that can quickly lead to troubles with the law.
I do want to make a critical distinction here: substance users are not by nature anti-social people, but, rather, end up acting antisocially due to desperation and their need to get drugs so they don’t go into withdrawal.
How is this trend an obstacle to recovery? A man with a criminal record will have a much harder time finding a job. That, in turn, only raises his chances of relapse. The result is an addictive cycle that can be harder to break.
Men generally find it harder to ask for help for an addiction. The reason for this may be similar to why men stereotypically are less likely than women to ask for directions when they’re lost. From an early age, men imbibe certain societal messages about what it means to be a man. They are taught, for example, that they need to be self-sufficient. Many men soon learn that showing emotions like tears is not “manly”— a sign of weakness.
These societal expectations about what it means to be a man can be a formidable barrier to asking for help, which demands vulnerability and an admission of weakness.
Addicted men are more likely to commit suicide. Some of the same societal norms for “manliness” may also be one of the reasons we see more suicides in males than in females.
Consider the following startling statistics regarding suicide and substance abuse in men:
- Males show a suicide rate that is 3.0 to 7.5 times that of women, across all countries reporting data (except China and India).
- As more perspective, in the U.S., of the 38,000 people who took their own lives, 79 percent of them reportedly were men.
- The rate of completed suicide among male addicts is two to three times higher than among males who are not addicts, according to findings.
Obviously, suicide by overdose is a permanent barrier to recovery. An inability to ask for help for a spiraling addiction should therefore be a big red flag that you or a man you love is in very real danger. That’s because the eventual trajectory of any untreated drug or alcohol problem is death, when in fact none of these four obstacles to recovery is worth your life and health. The takeaway: seeking treatment for a drug or alcohol problem will always be the more courageous and “manly” choice.
Do any of these obstacles to recovery resonate with your own experience? Share your perspective with the rest of us!