Understanding Men’s Addiction Treatment

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Gender does not offer protection from substance abuse or addiction. Though statistics show that certain forms of substance abuse or certain types of substance use disorders may impact men more than women, or vice versa, the reality of addiction is that any man or any woman can, under the right set of circumstances, become chemically dependent.

In many cases, men and women also heal from addiction in similar manners. Many addiction treatment programs provide coeducational services, with men and women participating in the same classes, therapy sessions, and related treatment activities. Support organizations such as 12-step groups are also available to male and female participants. However, this does not mean that men and women are impacted by addiction in entirely similar manners. Nor does it indicate that coeducation programs are or should be the only options for individuals whose lives have been upended by addiction.

For many men who have struggled with a substance use disorder, gender-specific or men-only treatment has proved to be particularly beneficial. Whether in a program that accepts only men, or though men-only programming within a coed program, addiction treatment services that are focused solely on men offer many benefits.

Before discussing treatment, it may be important to look at the differences between men and women regarding substance abuse itself. In general, men are significantly more likely than women to abuse alcohol or other drugs. Consider the following from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

  • The rate of alcoholism among adult men in the U.S. is 4.5 percent; among women, the rate is 2.3 percent.
  • The rate of binge drinking, which is defined as consuming five or more drinks in one discrete period of time in the past month is almost twice as high among adult men (30.2 percent) than among adult women (16 percent).
  • The rate of past-month substance abuse among adult men is 12.8 percent; among adult women, it is 7.3 percent.
  • The rate of chemical dependency among adult men is 10.7 percent; among adult women it is 5.7 percent.
  • Among adults who are admitted into a drug treatment program every year, about 70 percent are men and about 30 percent are women.

Of course, higher rates of substance abuse alone may not justify the existence of gender-specific treatment for men. However, this difference in the prevalence of substance abuse among men and women does indicate that each gender is impacted differently by issues related to the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. Studies have shown that the differences between men and women may extend to the treatment environment as well.

In a men-only treatment program, or in a men-only treatment track within a coeducational addiction treatment program, men may benefit in many ways. In a men-only therapeutic environment, participants may feel more comfortable discussing issues that they may be hesitant to address in a coeducational environment. For example, men who have struggled with body image problems or who have been abused may not want to expose what they believe to be weakness in the presence of female participants.

An important component of addiction treatment is exploring the ways in which a person’s struggles with substance abuse have impacted or been affected by their interpersonal relationships, including family and romantic relationships. In a men-only treatment environment, men can discuss addiction-related issues from the perspective of being sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers. Some heterosexual men may find it difficult or impossible to openly discuss problems in current or past relationships within a coeducational environment. In a men-only treatment program or men-only group, these individuals may be encouraged to fully engage in discussions of this important topic.

A men-only treatment program also benefits participants by being able to focus on the physical and psychological elements of addiction solely in terms of how they impact men, and can develop specialized programming to help men heal. Many men-only programs incorporate gym sessions and sports activities into both recreational therapy offerings and leisure options. In addition to providing men with both therapeutic and recreational outlets during treatment, such offerings also help men to develop new ways to fill the parts of their days that had previously been taken up by acquiring, using, and recovering from the abuse of the substances to which they had become addicted.

In a men-only treatment environment, participants can benefit not only from the guidance and interventions of the professionals who provide care, but also from the insights, input, and experiences of others who are receiving or have completed treatment.  By providing men with the opportunity to heal alongside others who may have similar backgrounds, struggles, and/or perspectives, men-only treatment programs enable participants to begin developing healthier friendships and forming the informal support network that can play such an essential role in helping them to achieve and maintain long-term recovery.

Men-only treatment programs are not ideal for everyone – but neither is any other type of addiction treatment. When choosing a program for yourself or for someone that you care about, your objective should not be to find a “perfect program.” Instead, you should be looking for the program that is the best fit for yourself or your loved one. For many men, a men-only treatment environment is the ideal place in which to take the important first steps along the path of lifelong recovery.

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