While we don’t want to split aspects of health by gender, it’s important to note that men often have specific challenges to overcome regarding addiction treatment and recovery. The more we understand these issues, the easier it is to provide a clear path.
“Manly Men” Don’t Need Help
In our society, there’s a prevailing attitude that men talking about feelings and hardships just isn’t done. Clinical psychologist Barbara Markway notes that in observation with her male clients, “many are trapped in the confines of a socialization process that tells them it’s unmanly to cry, to hurt, or to express the myriad other motions we all experience as a result of living fully as human beings.”
Further, this entrapment makes life more difficult because men might experience intense emotions but “lacking the training and support to make sense of those feelings, they are left with few options but to bury them deeper,” Markway says.
Without question, men are expected to fulfill certain expectations, and it starts at a young age. Researchers at the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University released a study that indicates “gender identity, rather than sex, may cause the brain to differ in males and females.” Men are imprinted with how to think, feel, and act as a particular type of man, no matter how generalized the standards might be.
And, like it or not, few places reinforce these expectations like the South. Just consider some of these articles written in the recent past:
- 7 Reasons Every Woman Should Date a Southern Gentlemen—“You will never have to worry about a southern man wanting to join you for pedicures, taking longer than you to get ready in the morning, or wearing the same size pants as you.”
- 28 Southern Gentleman Traditions That Still Apply Today—“Loud, unruly laughter is the characteristic of recklessness and bad-manners. A gentleman commands attention through his character, not his volume.”
- 10 Things to Know Before Dating a Southern Gentleman—“The Southern gentleman, in general, is a simple creature. His troubles are few and far between. However, from time to time, problems come up, leaving him to fall back on one simple truth: bourbon fixes everything. He learned this from his father, who learned this from his grandfather. So hand him a glass and give him time with his bourbon.”
While some men might let out a boisterous laugh and a proud “Damn straight!” at some of these points, others consider them examples of damaging stereotypes and expectations that make men more likely to smother their traumas, mental health conditions, and other issues under a heavy blanket of drugs or alcohol.
Military personnel living and working in a self-reliant, hyper-masculine environment often feel the burden of maintaining a certain status quo, too. But underneath the bravado are men who suffer from PTSD, hidden illicit drug use and heavy drinking as forms of self-medicating, and a fear of no confidentiality if they seek substance use or alcohol treatment because of the military’s no-tolerance drug policy.
Encouraging Brotherhood and Awareness
Opening up about mental health issues, suicide risk, alcohol use disorder, and drug use disorder reduces the stigma for men and helps lead the way to proper treatment.
Mental Health America reports that:
- Over six million men experience depression severe enough to cause fatigue, irritability, and a loss of interest in daily activities.
- More than 19 million men have anxiety disorder, which might include panic attacks, agoraphobia (fear and avoidance of places or situations that cause panic), and other phobias.
- Approximately 35 percent of men have a binge-eating disorder, and 10 percent experience anorexia or bulimia.
- Roughly one in five men develop alcohol use disorder.
- Low levels of testosterone are linked to depression, mood swings, and stress.
- Men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide, and contributing risk factors include substance abuse, social isolation, military-related trauma, mood disorders, and unemployment.
- Men are less likely to seek help for depression, stressful life events, and substance abuse due to a reluctance to talk, downplaying symptoms, and social norms.
In an article for The Good Men Project, psychology professor and author Andrew Smiler encourages men to “First, step outside the so-called ‘man box’ and acknowledge you can’t do it alone. Then, you need to step outside of some cultural beliefs about who gets therapy and why.”
Some Things to Consider
So consider how you can:
- Use your strength to take ownership of your actions by reaching out to a mental health provider or your physician about your condition and whether your drug or alcohol use is a problem.
- As Smiler says, move beyond stereotypes of what it means to get therapy, learn about the different types of counseling, and find the courage to seek treatment.Acknowledge that while you have specific challenges, you don’t have to face them alone.
Many men find brotherhood and understanding through:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous, and other 12-Step programs. AA was founded by two men, Bill W. and Dr. Bob.
- Mental Health America of Georgia, offering a variety of mental health and substance abuse resources.
- Military One Source, which is part of the Department of Defense; and the Veterans Crisis Line, which is provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
- SMART Recovery, started by Jack and Lois Trimpey.
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline, by online chat or by phone: 800-273-8255
We Can Help
Willingway is also a valuable resource for men to consider. At our inpatient rehabilitation facility, we offer gender-specific issue groups along with individual therapy. We also established the Men’s Lodge, a peer-driven extended living treatment environment that fosters a bond between men facing new realities and discovering their better selves. We have continuing care community groups, too, which encourage connection and support in recovery.