We live in many ages. For one, we live in the age of the Internet, the so-called Information age. Then there’s the fact that we’re progressing towards a shift in global politics, unseen since the days of the Cold War. We’re also on the cusp of several scientific and social breakthroughs, from reusable space rockets, self-driving cars and other forms of industry-defining automation, to property-sharing and total social interaction in a pocket-sized device.
We also live in an age of continuous gender equality – or at least the fight for it, as we struggle as a society to give women the freedom and privileges many men enjoy. But while the fight to balance power between the sexes is a noble and important one, there are many differences between men and women. Among them, are the differences in addiction.
Men and women get addicted to drugs in different ways. They behave in different ways while on drugs. They typically have distinct reasons for their addiction, and recovery occurs in diverse ways. These aren’t trivial differences – they’re revealing in the way they open our eyes to certain issues plaguing both men and women, and they also make the case for why women may what to seek sobriety and companionship among female friends and men among men.
The Societal Lens
Sexism has its way of pervading every aspect of society, and that includes addiction. Younger men tend to binge drink more often because drinking irresponsibly is part of our way of celebrating male culture. You only need to take one look at your average frat house, and you’ll see that peer pressure and competitive drinking have a way of really damaging the livers of young college boys. And women tend to see their alcoholism as a social activity rather than substance abuse, in part because popular culture has made female alcohol consumption as a stress-reliever seem so normal.
In part, due to the pressures women face, many mental illnesses like depression and eating disorders are more common among women – and these carry with them a higher risk of addiction, as a form of self-medication or coping.
But there are also many ways in which addiction changes between the genders based on simple physiological and psychological differences. Men tend to be addicts more often, consuming more drugs. But women get addicted faster, relapsing at higher rates.
Outside of gender differences, a better understanding of addiction can help us better fight the issue. Addiction grows in a broad range of circumstances defined utterly by despair and negativity – and many addicts tend to turn to drugs not just to let loose, but to get away.
Men & Addiction
Men are more often addicted to drugs and alcohol than women, while consuming larger amounts (even when accounting for the differences in body size). Men are more likely to binge drink than women, and they’re far more likely to smoke tobacco and/or marijuana.
However, unlike women, men also get treatment more often. While only a fraction of drug addicts get the treatment, they deserve, men seek treatment twice as often as women. They’re less inclined to hide their addiction out of fear of stigma or ostracizing and are less inclined to fear the loss of child custody or consequences from their spouse.
For men, the primary challenge remains peer pressure and dealing with their addiction through adequately available treatment. They don’t face the same issues with spousal violence as often as women do, and neither do they face the same incidence of mental illness. But common male culture, higher risk of suicide, especially regarding alcohol and tobacco consumption, may account for higher incidences of drinking and smoking among men, alongside evidence that alcohol has a different effect on the male brain. These are all critical factors for most men in recovery.
Women & Addiction
When it comes to addiction, women often face higher relapse rates and faster rates of addiction, and female addiction, while not as common as male drug addiction, is a faster rising statistic. While nicotine addiction is a bigger problem among men, for example, women tend to get addicted more quickly and suffer greater withdrawal symptoms.
While more women suffer from mood disorders, depression and anxiety than men do, there is a problem wherein many focus more on their mental illness than their addiction, believing one to solve the other. While it’s true that co-morbidities are a huge problem, and one we talk about often, the key is to treat both issues rather than target just one.
Women often hinge on self-discovery to beat drugs. They don’t see their drug addiction as an identity (addict), but as an activity attributed to a misguided version of themselves. While children or family may stereotypically seem like the top reason to quit drugs, the truth is that unless they’re doing it for themselves, they’re more likely to relapse.
Women also face a high correlation between violence and addiction, with many tying their addiction to a previous, often abuse relationship. Getting away from that relationship and recovering from the trauma that it caused, as well as rediscovering a new passion to replace their addiction – these are all critical factors for most women in recovery.
Sober Living & Gender-Specific Recovery
Sober living isn’t just the idea of sobriety as a life-long ambition – it’s also a means to better ease into life after rehab by first checking into a sober living facility, to learn and relearn many of the skills needed to adapt to life after an addiction.
You make many changes, both socially and physically, after overcoming an addiction through rehabilitation. While your body has technically flushed out the drugs and the withdrawal is over, your mind and old life still have a habit of making you remember the old days. Sobriety often means cutting out substantial portions of your old life – friends, places, even memories – to make room for the present and the future.
That can hurt considerably – and sober living can help ease the pain. Oftentimes, they are gender-specific recovery homes so you can choose whether to live among other men, other women, or even in a coed environment.
Addiction Is a Societal Issue
Collectivism is at times a little hard for us Americans because we’re founded on the concepts of individual liberty and responsibility – but any healthy community needs to recognize when it’s time to band together to solve issues, as is due for any respectable democracy. And as a community, drugs are something we’ve been battling for decades.
The martial fight against drugs hasn’t brought much change. The crackdown on drug use through imprisonment isn’t doing much, either. Vilifying or simplifying the issue through stereotyping or typical designations of good and evil won’t do the trick.
What we need, then, is better understanding. We need compassion. This isn’t a matter of sitting by a fire and singing along for the end of addiction – it’s about tackling the problem of drugs, alcohol and the inner struggles so many people have with these things by looking at the causes and factors, and addressing those within our national and regional communities.
It’s on us all to help. To make it easier for them to get better and reintegrate into society without the reoccurring need for drugs, rather than make them pay eternally for their old selves and punish them needlessly for things they’ve never done.