Men’s rates of addiction are nearly twice as high as those of women, and men are more likely to abuse alcohol and use all types of illicit drugs than women. The reasons for abuse vary, and a number of risk factors can predispose men to developing a substance use disorder.
Substance abuse among men in the military is increasing. Exposure to trauma in childhood, whether physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, can lead to substance abuse. Men who are abusing alcohol or illicit drugs may be trying to cope with undiagnosed mental illness. Chronic pain and work-related stress are also linked to substance abuse, especially opioid-based pain killers and alcohol, respectively.
Physical symptoms of abuse vary depending on the substance being abused, but some general symptoms of addiction include the following:
- Continuing to use alcohol or drugs even when they have caused physical harm or mental health issues.
- Continuing to use alcohol or drugs even when they interfere with work, home, or school.
- Needing to increase the amount of drug ingested or used in order to achieve the desired feeling; this is known as developing tolerance.
- Experiencing overwhelming cravings for alcohol or drugs, and going through withdrawal when reducing the amount or quitting substances.
- Reducing social, recreational, or work-related activities that may interfere with substance abuse.
- Spending an inordinate amount of time procuring, using, and recovering from the use of the abused substance.
Some of the physical signs of abuse include:
- Alcohol: slurring speech, lack of coordination, uneven gait
- Marijuana: dry mouth, increased appetite, eye redness
- Opioids, including heroin: Extreme drowsiness, pinpoint pupils, slurred speech, depressed respiration
- Amphetamines: Manic energy, weight loss, dilated pupils, chills and sweating
- Steroids: Aggression, decreased libido, irritability, shrunken testicles
Treatment for substance abuse usually begins with detox, then transitions to a counseling setting. Men in treatment will learn skills to prevent relapse, and receive medication if needed. Some men have special needs for treatment, helping them deal with anger appropriately, providing a space to process trauma, and using family or couples therapy to help repair relationships.
Therapeutic techniques include:
- Individual and group therapy provides a space for patients to process the roots of their abuse or addiction free of judgment.
- Twelve-step programs usually incorporate a spiritual element so that participants can recognize that their addiction is a chronic disease that cannot be overcome through willpower alone.
- Medication-assisted treatment uses medication to manage the symptoms of withdrawal, reduce cravings, and support abstinence.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective for treating substance use disorders, especially those related to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) skills focus on change and acceptance to fight substance abuse disorders as well as possible co-occuring mental illness.
- Therapies to address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as Cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure
Careers in addiction treatment include therapists, social workers, and rehabilitation healthcare professionals. In some cases, medication administration is a skill that needs to be learned. Pocket Nurse provides Demo Dose® Simulated Naloxn (Narcn), which is becoming available over the counter to fight the opioid epidemic. Or see the “Dangers of Alcohol” chart, perfect for the classroom.