The use of addictive drugs of all types is a global problem, yet few understand why it affects men more than women. Some doctors and healthcare specialists view addiction as a disease, whereas others see it as a problem of behaviour. Before we look at the nature of addiction, let’s review some statistics relating to the scale of problem and how addiction is illustrated in men more than women.
Drug Addiction Statistics
- The United Nations estimates that 250 million people used an illicit drug in 2014.
- Twenty-seven million people are “problem” drug users.
- There were an estimated 207,400 drug related deaths worldwide in 2014.
- Men are three times more likely than women to use cannabis, cocaine and amphetamines.
- Women are more likely to abuse drugs such as painkillers and sleeping tablets prescribed by a doctor.
- Males begin using drugs at an earlier age.
- Males tend to abuse drugs more often and in larger amounts.
- Males are known to more likely abuse alcohol and tobacco.
- Males are more likely to engage in binge drinking than women.
- Two thirds of attendees at Alcoholics Anonymous are men
Why does gender matter?
What accounts for the difference in male/female drug addiction? Research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that more males use drugs at an earlier age because they have more opportunities. Teenage males are more likely to be exposed to drugs through their peer group than teenage girls, who are often introduced to drugs by boys. A study sponsored by NIDA illustrates how after being initiated into drug use, males and females are equally likely to continue using.
Alcohol and drug abuse are strongly associated with an increased suicide rate in men. In a recent British study, men were three times more likely than women to be alcohol dependent and twice as likely to be drug dependent. Almost 8% of British men and 5% of women said that they had been drug dependent at some time in their lives, 3% of men and 1% of women reporting dependence during the previous year.
Alcohol is thought to cause around 33,000 deaths per year in Britain, with one in four hospital admissions being related to alcohol. Drinking is implicated in 60% of suicides and 40% of domestic violence cases.
Some estimates put the number of Britons addicted to over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs to be around 2 million.
Alcohol and drug dependence
Dependence occurs at a more advanced stage of the addiction process. Doctors make a diagnosis of addiction if three or more of the following features are present.
- A strong desire or sense of compulsion to take the substance.
- Difficulties controlling the substance-taking behaviour in terms of when it occurs, and or being able to stop, and or being unable to control the amount consumed once started.
- A physically unpleasant withdrawal state when not consuming the substance.
- Further substance use to relieve or avoid the withdrawal state.
- Evidence of increased tolerance (increased doses are required in order to achieve effects originally produced by lower doses).
- Progressive neglect of alternative pleasures or interests because of the substance use.
- Persisting with substance use despite clear evidence of harmful consequences.
- Narrowing of a person’s lifestyle – i.e. taking the substance becomes more important than anything else.
The causes of addiction
There are a number of theories. It appears that characteristics of the individual, the properties of alcohol and drugs, and environmental factors interact to produce addiction. Yet it is difficult to determine whether the individual’s personality or their environment is the primary factor in causing addiction in any one person.
Is alcoholism inherited?
Alcoholism seems to be more common in some families. This inherited type of alcoholism particularly affects men. Individuals may inherit a higher tolerance for alcohol (they need more drink than others to achieve the same effect) or they may inherit an increased chance of becoming dependent.
Some theorists have described a type of alcoholism which specifically affects men and may be inherited:
- There is an inability to abstain.
- Parents tended to be heavy abusers.
- It is associated with criminality and novelty seeking.
- Usually a moderate to severe problem.
- Onset is before the age of 25.
The cognitive addiction model
Many believe addiction can be a learned behaviour. Cognition is the process by which we attain knowledge and awareness of the world. The cognitive approach to addiction assumes that:
- addictive behaviour is ‘learned’
- the behaviour can thus be ‘unlearned’.
In the past, drug addiction was studied in both men and women from a predominantly
male perspective. Drug and alcohol abuse prevention programs and facilities were designed with an emphasis on the needs of males. Outreach campaigns and preventive education regarding drug addiction treatment are designed with the needs of both men and women in mind.
When it comes to treating drug addiction, both men and women benefit from a comprehensive program that encompasses the full course of care. Effective treatment therapies on the continuum of recovery services include:
- Medically managed drug detox
- Group therapy with peers
- Family or marriage counseling
- Nutritional counseling and dietary support
- Fitness training
- Experiential and expressive therapies
- Holistic techniques
- Aftercare programs
Having the support of a highly trained, multidisciplinary professional can help both men and women recover from the disease of addiction and attain health in the future.
For more information on addiction therapy, reach out to me for help.
To your good mental health!