There are many factors that contribute to addiction. Some of them are similar across genders, but some are gender specific. Society’s different expectations for men and women, the way men and women handle stress differently, and biology all play a role in substance abuse and addiction. Stereotypes about men and women can feed into substance abuse issues and make getting treatment for addiction more difficult.
Gender Stereotypes Encourage Substance Abuse
Society as a whole often views substance abuse as a normal part of adolescent life, particularly with regards to alcohol. Teen drinking is an expected, often acceptable form of recreation. “Boys will be boys,” is the reaction to young men using drugs and alcohol in many cases, and alcohol abuse among teenage boys is much higher than it is among girls. The idea of manliness and alcohol consumption are often closely related, with men being expected to be able “hold their liquor.”
Women have their own set of stereotypes that often feed into their substance abuse problems. Body image issues are often coupled with addiction, as women try to self-medicate the pain they feel as a result. Expectations about having a family, managing a career and caring for a household cause women to harbor feelings of inadequacy that can lead to depression and substance abuse. The media reinforces the need to be thin and perfect, and this can add pressure for women to use drugs to achieve these results.
Gender Stereotypes Hamper Addiction Treatment
Seeking drug rehabilitation treatment for men is difficult because of the stereotype that they should be strong enough to control themselves and handle their substance abuse on their own. Many men feel that if they admit to having a problem, they will be perceived as weak. Many men will try to hide their addiction for as long as they can from those they love in order to appear to be in control. Really, checking into rehab and getting clean is the best chance a man has for regaining control over his life.
Women facing addiction also have some stereotypes to overcome when seeking treatment. Women who have children are hesitant to check into rehab because those who find out about it may assume that they are a bad mother. The truth is that overcoming your addiction is the best thing that you can do for your children.
Gender-Specific Treatment Has a Greater Success Rate
Because the reasons for substance abuse and treatment needs for addiction are so different between men and women, it’s important for addicts to attend a rehab program that is tailored specifically to meet their needs.
Many women suffer from addiction in conjunction with other mental disorders — like depression or anorexia. They need to attend a recovery program that will treat their co-occurring disorders or relapse is almost a certainty once they go back home.
Men may have more trouble discussing their feelings because of the barriers they’ve put up in order to seem in control. They need to attend a rehab program that uses experiential therapy and other methods to break down the walls and help them to open up in order to heal.