5 Ways Alcohol Addiction is Different for Men and Women

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.

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Dear Renewal Lodge Visitors,

My name is John Bruna, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Recovery® Institute, and more importantly, a grateful member of the recovery community. I am incredibly fortunate to have found my recovery in 1984. Of course, I did not achieve continuous recovery through willpower or my own efforts, but through the guidance and caring support of countless others that selflessly taught me how to live through the 12 Steps.

My journey of recovery brought this once homeless, shame-based, traumatized, insecure young man to a life far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I discovered self-worth, the joy of helping others, the gifts of parenting and grandparenting, and most importantly the ability to live a meaningful and purposeful life with integrity.

One of the greatest gifts of recovery is that I have the opportunity to give back and help others discover their self-worth, dignity, and the skills to fully live lives that they find truly meaningful. This is the inspiration for developing the skills of Mindfulness in Recovery® (MIR) to meet the needs of new generations struggling with alcohol and other substance use disorders. MIR is a set of evidence-based skills designed to help people fully integrate their tools of recovery in ways that are personalized, practical, and in alignment with their deepest values.

While we train counselors and therapists throughout the United States and abroad, I personally have chosen to work directly with the amazing team and clients at Renewal Lodge to develop the model MIR 12-step program for the nation. I choose Renewal Lodge because of the vision of its mission and the dedication of its team. Renewal Lodge is an extremely rare environment in which the staff embodies the very mindfulness and 12-step practices and skills they offer their clients. The results have been beyond my expectations. It is an honor to be here and I treasure my personal time with every client I meet.

With Gratitude,

John Bruna
John Bruna
Director of Mindfulness
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