Alcohol use disorder doesn’t discriminate, but many recovery programs have found that gender segregation in treatment allows for a more individual approach that considers the unique needs of men and women battling addictions. Men and women experience substance abuse differently on a physical and emotional level, and respond better to different treatment techniques. By understanding these differences, we can take advantage of recovery programs that cater to individual needs and produce results.
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Here are 5 Ways Alcohol Addiction is Different for Men and Women
1. Alcohol’s Effect on the Body
Research tells us that alcohol tends to affect women’s bodies differently than men. One reason for this difference is that women tend to weigh less than men, but have a higher body fat percentage. A lower body weight means that alcohol levels will be higher in the bloodstream than in that of a heavier person under the influence of the same amount. Fat cells retain alcohol in the body, causing a woman’s organs to be exposed to the alcohol she has drank for a longer period than a man with an average body fat percentage. Women also have a harder time breaking down alcohol through the digestive process, and therefore their livers are more vulnerable to damage than men ingesting the same amount of alcohol.
2. Alcohol and Relationships
While there are many reasons for substance abuse in both men and women, women are more likely to fall into addiction as a result of the romantic relationships in their lives. This may begin by witnessing an unhealthy relationship between their parents or caregivers that involved alcohol abuse. Children tend to model their adult relationships after the examples they were given as children. Women who witnessed their mothers being romantically involved with abusive and alcoholic men are more likely to fall into a similar scenario when they begin to date. Alcohol is so normalized in our culture, and we often build it into our romantic relationships. For women who meet their romantic partners at bars or in the party scene, heavy drinking can seem like a normal part of getting to know each other. Additionally, women often drink in excess to keep up with the men they are around, without considering their own increased vulnerability to health issues and addiction.
3. Alcohol and Parenthood
While alcohol can interfere with everyone’s ability to parent, it is still true that women are more likely to be the primary caregivers for little ones. Alcohol abuse effects mothers in a unique way, by creating a never-ending cycle of shame and guilt. Because working mothers are more likely to experience the “second-shift” of childcare, they are also more likely to be living with high stress levels and poor mental health. Many women turn to alcohol to self-medicate when they are feeling overwhelmed, and “wine mom” culture has begun to normalize drinking socially during playdates and at the end of every long day. This dangerous cultural shift is rapidly increasing the rate of alcohol use disorder among mothers, and recovery must be structured in a way that meets the unique needs of overworked moms who are having a hard time coping with all that is expected of them.
4. Mental Illness
While everyone can develop a mental illness, women are more likely to suffer from mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and severe depression. These illnesses, if left untreated, can cause women to self-medicate with alcohol, and in doing so, exacerbate the symptoms of their illness. Quality addiction recovery treatment requires the identification of co-occurring disorders and the customization of dual diagnosis treatment that may involve medication. Regardless of your gender, it is important to look for a treatment center that is equipped to provide you with a dual diagnosis, if necessary.
5. Willingness to Ask for Help
While seeking professional help for an addiction can be difficult for anyone, and should be considered an act of tremendous courage, asking for help doesn’t often come as naturally to men. Our society continues to perpetuate the myth that men should always be independent and strong, and asking for help or admitting you have a problem is a sign of weakness. For this same reason, men are less likely to seek treatment for mental health disorders that may be contributing to their alcohol use. By facilitating open communication in gender segregated support groups, recovery programs can give men a safe space to open up about their personal struggles and become comfortable with leaning on the support of others. False perceptions of masculinity and a man’s role in the family can cause men to ignore a problem as it slowly grows out of control. A holistic treatment program can address issues of masculinity that began in childhood, and may be inhibiting your ability to connect with your loved ones and practice self-care.