Author: Neal Catalano, North Bay Recovery Center Blogger
A study conducted by the Journal of Abnormal Psychology suggests that men are far more susceptible to drug and alcohol addiction than women, particularly in response to a mental illness. While this does not mean that the issues faced by all persons are necessarily gender-specific, it does speak to how likely each gender will manifest those issues in the form of drug or alcohol abuse.
The study conducted by the JoAP, which garnered information from over 43,000 adults who were not institutionalized, found that men had a tendency to externalize negative feelings and emotions, which more often than not manifested in abusing drugs and/or alcohol. Conversely, when women participating in the study were faced with similar circumstances, it was found that they less often turned to drugs or alcohol for comfort, and more often than not were diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression.
A separate study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) involving subjects who did seek help found that women would often seek generalized mental health care and treatment, rather than specialized treatment for addiction. The opposite was true for men. This runs concurrent to the JoAP’s findings. According to that study, there could be a sociological factor at play both in the manifestation of substance abuse in men, and in the treatment that participants in the NIAAA’s study choose to seek. The study makes reference to the fact that, culturally speaking, men are more inclined to “problem-solve,” or “fix.” In the case of developing drug or alcohol addiction, this could be a result of “fixing” negative emotions by anesthetizing oneself with substances. In cases where addiction treatment was sought by men, subjects may have identified their “issues” and set off to “fix” them as a tangible goal.
The JoAP study argues that women are geared more towards a tendency to “ruminate,” as the lead author Nicholas R. Eaton MD of the University of Minnesota puts it. This means that women may be more likely to look inward and struggle with the overall reasons for how they feel rather than use substances to block those feelings, which leads to a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with anxiety or depression.
Of course there are no absolutes. Men and women experience similar emotions when faced with hardships or mental illness. Some women absolutely struggle with substance abuse that may or may not be symptomatic of overarching mental health issues. Similarly, many men battle anxiety and depression either independently of, or concurrently with, substance abuse or alcoholism. What these two studies do suggest, however, is that because of the different approaches with which men and women struggle, cope and seek treatment, men are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol as a solution to their problems.
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