Gender Specific Addiction Treatment for Men: Behavioral Health Considerations

men writing on white board
young men writing on white board - gender specific

Men and women have different needs when seeking addiction treatment. More men than women are in treatment programs. Once they enter treatment, gender roles and expectations have a bearing on men’s level of discomfort in relationships with therapists and other clients.

Men More Likely to Abuse Drugs, Alcohol than Women

Gender plays a role in the likelihood of whether someone will become involved with drugs or alcohol.

Drug Abuse. Statistically, drug abuse and dependency disorder numbers are between two and three times higher for adult men than adult women (National Center for Biotechnology Information).

Alcohol Abuse. Rates of alcohol abuse are higher for men (20 percent) than women (7-12 percent). Alcohol abuse has traditionally been easier for friends and family members to excuse or overlook, in part because alcohol is a legal substance that’s an accepted part of celebrations of all types. Alcohol is also used in business to mark the closing of a deal, welcome a new team member, celebrate someone’s retirement or relax at the end of a difficult week.

Opioid Abuse. Men are more likely to be employed in careers where they are likely to experience a severe injury or be killed on the job, such as construction, mining, manufacturing, logging, law enforcement and the military. Workplace injuries can lead to employees being prescribed opioid pain medications; for some of these employees, prescription medications open the door to the slippery slope toward opioid abuse and addiction.

Treatment Issues for Men Seeking Addiction Help

Men generally seek help for drug and alcohol addiction as a result of one of the following:

  • They have been urged to seek help by family and friends.
  • Their continued employment is contingent on getting (and staying) clean.
  • They have been ordered into treatment by the court.
  • They have been referred to treatment by their doctor or another agency.

Sharing Feelings Can be Difficult. Once they arrive at a treatment center, men have to battle against the expectations they may have of themselves that to be manly means being stoic, independent and keeping feelings hidden.

Using chemicals might have been a convenient way to quash emotions by disconnecting from them, sometimes for years. Men may have difficulty learning how to express emotions, especially ones that would make them appear vulnerable or weak. They may find it easier to express emotions that they consider more manly, such as anger, but not have tools to talk about ones that hit “closer to home” for them.

Men May Feel Competitive While in Treatment. Another treatment issue that may come into play is that since men are expected to be competitive, they may see going to treatment as something that they have to “win.” This is not the case, since addiction recovery is a highly individual process.

Each person has their own reasons for using drugs or alcohol and will respond to treatment in their own way. For this reason, many treatment centers offer programs focusing on an individualized approach where clients can focus on their issues in individual sessions with a counselor or therapist.

Mixed Groups May Not be Best Environment for Sharing. If men are coming into drug and alcohol treatment and are expected to be honest about their past behaviors, a mixed gender group may not be the best environment for them. Men who wish to talk about prior incidents of anger (with or without violence) while being drunk or stoned in a group made up of both genders run the very real risk of making women in the group feel both threatened and angry.

Men who have been abused may feel uncomfortable discussing this very personal topic with female clients present. Some men mistakenly feel as though being abused as a child by an adult of the same sex says something about their own sexual orientation or that they must have done something to encourage their abuser to choose them.

If a man has been abused as an adult, he may feel uncomfortable opening up in front of female members of a group. The desire to be in control or save face may win out over wanting to get help. In a situation where a man was abused by a female partner, he may be even less likely to open up about the situation in front of female group members, even though his feelings in regard to the situation are absolutely valid and deserving of support.

Gender Specific Addiction Treatment for Men

When considering drug and alcohol treatment for men, gender-specific programs allow males to focus on their recovery. They can focus on trusting their therapists and their fellow clients without having to hold onto the trappings of what society says about what masculinity means.

Men may need to use different strategies than women to make “talk therapy” a successful therapeutic tool for them. Since men tend to be goal-oriented, some clients may respond well to a therapist who helps them set goals for their group therapy. These goals would likely involve learning about emotions and how to express them appropriately to others. The therapist could also assign homework to build on these themes.

The best addiction treatment is the one that a loved one is actively pursuing to get well. English Mountain Recovery’s residential inpatient programs focus on supportive healing.

By Jodee Redmond