The media is chock full of images of addicted men. All too often, these men abuse their children, berate their partners, and engage in violent and even illegal behaviors. Of course, addiction can and does make people violent, and data suggests that more than half of the prison population - most of whom are male - have a demonstrated drug or alcohol addiction. But what the popular media portrayals of addicted men often neglect is that addiction is a disease borne of intense emotional suffering. In a world where men are too often encouraged to suppress their feelings, ignore their needs, and grin and bear even the worst pain, it's no wonder that men outnumber women in addiction treatment centers four to one.
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Addiction causes intense pain to everyone it touches, and when people are in pain, they often look for someone to blame. Consequently, many people still believe that addiction is a personal choice. Maybe you've even heard from loved ones that you can stop any time. Perhaps you've begun to believe them. But addiction is a disease, virtually indistinguishable from disorders such as cancer and diabetes. Skeptical? You're not alone. But a near-avalanche of research shows that the brains and bodies of addicts are fundamentally different. Abusing drugs or alcohol changes the way your brain functions, making it easier to abuse than it is to abstain. Unfortunately, though, the same of addiction - coupled with gender socialization that teaches men not to feel - can discourage suffering men from seeking treatment.
So how is it that addiction is a disease? Your first use of addictive substances activates your brain, releasing pleasure-increasing chemicals and forcing your body to metabolize an entirely new substance. The intense pleasure of your first few uses of an addictive substance encourages you to continue using. As this happens, your body attempts to protect you from the dangers of addictive substances by reducing the effect these substances have on you. This, in turn, can cause you to use even more drugs as you chase that elusive first high. Over time, you become chemically dependent on drugs and alcohol, which means that quitting can yield extremely painful and unpleasant symptoms. At this point, you may feel like you need drugs or alcohol to feel normal - a sure sign of addiction.
The most significant predictor of addiction is use and abuse of drugs and alcohol, so if you want to protect yourself from the scourge of addiction, avoid using addictive substances. However, some factors appear to increase men's risk of becoming addicted. These risk factors include:
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We've all heard the myths about men and women: women are emotional, while men are emotionally shut down. Men are aggressive, while women are born nurturers. Women are from Venus; men are from Mars. The truth is that these claims are overblown, and research consistently finds many more similarities between men and women than differences. But men and women are socialized to behave differently, and this socialization has the capacity to harm both sexes.
Many men face intense pressure to be strong breadwinners, athletes, and "tough guys" who defend their family at all costs. Changing gender roles mean that men are also now expected to be good fathers and husbands, to share their emotions, and to do their fair share around the home. For many men, these expectations feel conflicted. After all, it's hard to be emotionally available while also constantly putting on a facade of toughness.
Some men attempt to manage these pressures by turning to alcohol or drugs. Others rely on alcohol and drugs to help them live up to their roles. For instance, a doctor might start abusing sleeping pills so that he can sleep well at night in order to be a happy and loving father in the morning. While many risk factors for abuse are the same for both men and women, some of the pressures men face include:
According tot he Department of Justice, more than 75% of violent offenders are male, and more than half of violent offenses involve drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse affects men's relationships in uniquely catastrophic ways. Of course, when you're an addict, you'll do anything to deny that your addiction harms others. But consider the myriad ways addiction ruins men's relationships and even turns them into criminals:
Addiction steadily erodes trust while compromising your judgment. It can make cheating on your spouse seem like a good idea, cause you to avoid seeking help for mental health issues, and even destroy your relationship with your children. If you want to fight back against the rigid box our society tries to put men into - and you should, since that box prevents healthy relationships - you need to kick the habit now.
About half of all addicts have an additional mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety. These conditions compound the struggles of addiction in a number of ways. Being mentally ill is extraordinarily challenging, particularly in a society where men are expected to be strong and emotion-free a tall times. Thus you may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with this emotional conundrum. Mental illness also undermines your judgment, making you more likely to try addictive substances in the first place. Third, prolonged substance abuse can change your brain and body, actually causing mental illness in the process. And finally, people with mental illness face a unique challenge. The medications that can treat mental illness are potentially addictive in their own right. If you're not careful, you can become "accidentally" addicted to prescription drugs. Prescription drug addiction is no joke; it's now the leading cause of drug addiction, as well as a primary cause of drug-related emergency room visits.
Research suggests that women are more likely to develop mental illnesses than men, though researchers aren't sure why this is. It could be that the unique challenges women face - such as an increased risk of domestic violence or rape - predispose them to mental illness, for example. Whatever the reason, though, many men spend much time in denial about their mental health, telling themselves that mental illness is a women's issue. Because more women than men get mentally ill, many treatment programs are designed around women's needs, so men may feel out of place. For example, activities designed to improve self-esteem may work with women, while men feel awkward or like these activities don't target their unique self-esteem concerns.
The first step toward treating mental illness is recognizing that you have a mental health condition. If you have an addiction and a mental illness, you will likely need residential treatment to recover. Drug or alcohol rehab offers comprehensive treatment in a safe setting, but you first must know what you're dealing with. Some common mental illnesses, as well as their symptoms, include:
Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized by a traumatic event - such as a rape, domestic violence, natural disaster, life-threatening car accident, or military combat - and the following symptoms:
Mental health professionals now recognize three distinct eating disorders. Binge eating disorder is characterized by periods of time during which you eat large quantities of food. For instance, you might eat two boxes of Oreos. Bulimia is characterized by binging coupled with purging, usually by vomiting or through the use of laxatives. Anorexia is the result of self-starvation, and often coincides with compulsive and excessive exercise. Though eating disorders are more common among women than men, eating disorders experts say that more than 10% of eating disorder sufferers are now men.
This isn't an exhaustive list of potential mental health conditions or their symptoms. So if you feel like your emotions are out of control or your family has expressed concern, seek help now.
Perhaps one of the scariest things about addiction is that it means you can't trust your own judgment. Alcohol and drugs compromise your ability to think clearly. And addiction attempts to sustain itself by making you think you're not really an addict - a process known as denial. Your denial won't protect you or your loved ones, though, and the first step toward getting better is admitting you have a problem.
If you think you're an addict, you probably are. But if you're still on the fence, evaluate the effect substance abuse has on your life. Addiction is characterized by continued use even when you suffer some negative consequences. Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer yes to three or more, you probably are an addict:
Addiction is a progressive illness that does not get better with time or go away on its own. If you, like many women, need help with drug or alcohol dependence, help is available, and the best time to pursue help is today. Don't wait till tomorrow, when life may be worse and your addiction may escalate further out of control.
Northpoint's high quality drug rehab is the gold standard in treating drug and alcohol addiction in both men and women in The Treasure Valley. Drug rehab works because it removes you from the stresses of daily life, as well as your triggers for use, then puts you in a safe, supportive, and drug-free environment. At minimum, most drug and alcohol rehab centers offer the following services. You can also opt to pursue these services outside of a rehab, as any of them on their own can also help you successfully recover.
Addiction isn't just a choice you make. It's a product of a potentially life-threatening chemical dependency. When you quit using cold turkey - as most addiction experts believe you should - you can experience severe withdrawal symptoms, including strong psychological cravings, mood swings, shakiness dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty sleeping, and similar symptoms.
Everyone's withdrawal experience is different. Some report that it's a relatively painless process, while others describe it as the single most challenging experience of their lives. Your experience depends on many factors, including your health, psychological state, and how long you've been an addict. The longer your addiction has continued, the harder withdrawal is in most cases. Similarly, some drugs are more challenging to withdraw from than others; opiates such as heroin come with a notoriously prolonged withdrawal experience.
Withdrawal is not usually dangerous, but some people do experience health problems, so it's wise to talk to your doctor before beginning the process. You can then pursue drug detox or drug rehab, through a standalone program, or under the careful supervision of your doctor. Depending on the specifics of your situation, your doctor may even be able to prescribe drugs to reduce the intensity of detox or to help reduce the risky side effects of withdrawal.
Support groups are informal networks of peers who have faced similar challenges to your own. Though 12-step programs are the most popular option, support groups come in all shapes and sizes. Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), for instance, the emphasis is on taking responsibility, working the steps, and maintaining permanent sobriety. Many addicts find the programs so helpful that they continue attending meetings for years, or even decades, after they've kicked the habit.
Most 12-step programs are free or charge, though participants are encouraged to make a donation. The programs are confidential; you don't even have to give your name, and meetings occur across the globe at virtually every time of day. These groups, though, are loosely religious and influenced by Christian doctrine. Each group is independent, so some groups embrace spirituality more readily than others, and some are entirely secular. Many atheists and agnostics successfully complete 12-step programs, but some prefer a secular program. SMART Recovery and Rational Recovery offer alternatives if you prefer a completely secular option.
If 12-step programs aren't for you, you do have other options. Group therapy, either in rehab or under the guidance of an addiction counselor, can be extraordinarily beneficial. And many therapists, charities, and organizations offer support groups that use a different approach from the NA/AA model of recovery.
Addiction isn't just about using drugs. It's also about what's going on in your mind and your life. Therapy helps you explore the deeper roots of your addiction, and can help you understand why you became an addict and why this particular drug was so appealing to you. If you have a mental illness or a stressful life, therapy is vital to the recovery process. Getting drug treatment is possible!
Research has repeatedly shown that a close relationship with a therapist you trust is a more important predictor of success in therapy than the specific method or approach the therapist uses. However, it's wise to choose a therapist who has experience treating your specific set of issues. It's even more important to vet your therapist before you shell out tons of money. Try asking some of the following questions:
Addiction is now the leading cause of accidental death, and contributes to billions in health care costs alone. If you're a recovering addict, you need medical care for at least a handful of reasons. First, you need assistance to remedy the health effects of addiction. You'll also want help safely navigating the detox process. And if you have a mental or physical illness that requires medication, your doctor can help you find the least addictive treatment option. If you want to try mental illness medication for the first time, a doctor - and not a therapist - is the only person who can legally prescribe such treatment.
For many men, it's tough to seek support or rehab, since doing so can feel a lot like admitting to weakness. But leaning on people who love you is a vital ingredient in the recipe for success; bottling everything up inside only increases your odds of failure.
You can't hide your addiction from loved ones, and if you feel like you need to, you either have a serious problem in your relationship or are showing one of the classic symptoms of addiction: avoidance and denial. If you're anxious about talking to the people who love you the most, be sure to try these tips:
Addiction is, in some ways, the result of a failure to set clear boundaries for both yourself and the people in your life. If you want to get and stay better, then, you need to develop clear boundaries. Consider some of the following options.
You are more likely to relapse during times of stress, so learning healthy ways to cope with stress is one of the most important ways to reduce the effects your addiction has on your life. Consider some of the following strategies:
Addiction is a lifestyle disease; an unhealthy lifestyle riddled with drugs and alcohol is what initially led to your addiction. Lifestyle changes won't cure your addiction, but they can make it easier to recover while reducing your risk of relapse. If you're ready to do everything you can to maximize your odds of recovering, then try to incorporate as many of these lifestyle changes into your life as you can:
No matter where you are in your life, one thing is certain: recovery is not easy. But it is an adventure, and if you can think of it this way, you'll be much better-equipped to remain sober. Think of recovery as your chance to get a whole new life, that you can make look however you want. It's not often that life offers us a reset button, but sobriety does just this. Getting drug rehab is well worth the time, money and effort.
Alcohol or drug detox is inevitably the hardest part of recovery. Some research suggests that, during this process, the brain enters a dementia-like state. IN other words, you're not thinking clearly, and cannot rely on your anxious, depressed thoughts when you're detoxing. Keep this in mind when things feel overwhelming.
After detoxing, which usually lasts a week or two, your cravings will be less severe, feeling more like discrete events rather than one long, endless craving. Cravings can last for quite a while, though, and can feel quite powerful. Remind yourself that it's just a craving, which only lasts for a few minutes, and you'll be better prepared to cope. Getting drug treatment after detoxing would be wise.
Some addicts have heard from well-meaning loved ones that cravings last forever. This is untrue and potentially damaging. Over time, your cravings will fade. Every time you ignore a craving, you master the art of resisting temptation, thus getting one step closer to overcoming your addiction for good. Eventually, you'll face down all of your triggers for use, causing your cravings to completely disappear. Most addicts need about a year for the cravings to completely disappear, because in a year's time, you'll likely face all of your usual triggers and temptations. Every time you overcome a trigger, remember, you get one step closer to surmounting your addiction altogether.
Relapse is common, with 40% to 60% of addicts relapsing. You should, therefore, work with your treatment team to create an anti-relapse plan. While relapse can be disheartening, it's not the end of the road. In fact, research shows that your odds of success increase, rather than decrease, with each subsequent relapse. Every time you relapse, you learn something new about yourself and your addiction, thereby making recovery much more likely.
Whether it's the first or the 50th time you've quit, today really can be the start of a new and better life. Help is available, but you must be willing to ask for it first. You might feel powerless and hopeless; indeed, many addicts do. But today can be the first day of your new life. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, and you might be surprised to see what a relief doing just that is.