The gender-based differences in addiction are hard to ignore.
According the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
- Men have higher rates of binge drinking and alcohol abuse in most age groups.
- Men more likely to use almost all types of illicit drugs—including both illegal street drugs and misused prescription drugs.
- Men are more likely to need emergency room care due to an overdose.
What Is Toxic Masculinity?
Toxic masculinity refers to a narrow and oppressive definition of manhood where aggression is valued and emotions are seen as a “feminine” weakness. Elements of toxic masculinity can include:
- Solving problems with aggression or physical violence
- Being reluctant to accept help from others
- Ignoring potential health problems for fear of being seen as less than manly
- Viewing women as inherently weak and inferior
- Avoiding talking about unpleasant emotions, including sadness, fear, anxiety, and frustration
- Forming shallow and superficial connections to others instead of discussing genuine thoughts and feelings
- Taking unnecessary risks with your personal safety to prove that you are “brave”
- Using drugs and alcohol as a form of stress relief
Toxic masculinity is problematic because it discourages building emotional connection with others. When compassion, empathy, understanding, and service to others are seen as exclusively feminine traits, men miss out on developing the meaningful relationships that can provide a support system in times of crisis. This places them at a much higher risk of depression, suicide, and criminal violence as well as substance abuse.
Toxic masculinity is perpetuated by cultural stereotypes as well as gender-based parenting. When parents say “Boys don’t cry” or movies show characters drinking to the point of blacking out after a bad day at work, young men form an inherently self-destructive idea of how they should behave.
The Good Men Project frequently discusses toxic masculinity and its effects. See their articles What Is Toxic Masculinity? and The Difference Between Toxic Masculinity and Being a Man to learn more.
The Relationship Between Toxic Masculinity, Trauma, and Addiction
Men who develop a sense of identity based on toxic masculinity are ill-equipped to deal with traumatic events such as:
- Death of a loved one
- Job loss
- Prolonged unemployment
- Poverty, bankruptcy, or other financial difficulty
- Divorce or end of a long-term romantic relationship
- Being the victim of a crime
- Being affected by a natural disaster
Instead of talking about how they feel and finding healthy ways to process these emotions, men who exhibit signs of toxic masculinity turn to drugs and alcohol. Substance use provides a temporary escape from their troubles, but eventually creates new problems by causing health issues, diminished job performance, and strained relationships with family and friends. This starts a vicious cycle in which substance abuse becomes an even larger part of a man’s daily routine until a full-blown substance use disorder has developed.
Men who have a family history of addiction have a significantly higher risk of developing a substance use disorder due to genetic risk factors and environmental influences. Often, growing up with a father, grandparent, uncle, older brother, or other male relative who struggles with drug or alcohol addiction serves to further distort an individual’s view of how a “real man” should act.
Breaking the Cycle by Promoting a Broader Understanding of Masculinity
Toxic masculinity is a social construct, which means that men have the ability to choose a different path for themselves. This may include:
- Using your physical strength to be of service to others
- Taking positive risks, such as opening your own business or going back to school
- Forming mentoring relationships with younger men
- Developing non-sexual relationships with women based on shared interests and mutual respect
Developing a broader understanding of what it means to be a man also includes seeking the help you need to be resilient in the face of adversity. Addiction is considered a chronic illness, but there is always hope for a brighter future.
At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we offer personalized evidence-based care for individuals struggling with substance use disorders. Our treatment includes:
- Medically managed detox to help you safely withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
- Individual, group, and family therapy
- Holistic treatments, such as art or music therapy
- Support to practice good nutrition, exercise, and other health lifestyle habits
If appropriate, clients are encouraged to develop care plans that include treatment for depression and other mental health disorders as well as process additions such as gambling, sex addiction, or an addiction to pornography.