Four Common Issues for Men Suffering from Addiction
By Kate Appleman, Director of Men's Programming
Seeking treatment and beginning the journey of recovery is a process for anyone; a process filled with gratitude, rewards, and a new sense of purpose. It is not always easy, however, to begin this journey, especially for men who often wait until they experience more significant consequences to ask for help. In honor of Men’s Health Month, here are four factors to consider for men’s addiction, treatment, and recovery.
Issue: Boys are often given many messages about emotions as they grow up. Many men learn from an early age “rules” about feelings: be tough, don’t’ cry, don’t show them you’re hurt, etc. As a result, the ability to identify and express emotions can be difficult and confusing. When there is difficulty expressing emotion, feelings can come out “sideways” in anger and other destructive behaviors, including substance use and addictively acting out in other ways.
Solution: While in treatment, without the numbing from substances, emotions come up and men often feel shame. It’s important for men to be able to recognize their true reality, since their reality can be altered as a result of substance use and other co-occurring disorders. Men also need to learn how to identify and express their emotions in a healthy way. They also need to discover how to connect with others on an emotional level. At Caron, we have specialty groups to process shame, anger, and resentment. Learning how to identify emotions and experience them in a productive way enables men to begin recovery and experience the reward of connection.
Issue: We talk about addiction being a “family disease” as it has a tendency to significantly impact those who are closest to it. Men often arrive in treatment with a real conflict: I love my family, but my addiction continues to hurt them. As addiction progresses, it is common for men to retreat deeper inward; creating isolation, a feeling of being misunderstood, and greater space between them and their loved ones. This leaves family members confused and isolated themselves.
Solution: During treatment, it’s important for there to be honesty, openness, and willingness. The treatment team should support families to have open dialogue and communication in order to rejuvenate bonds and relationships. An effective part of treatment is for men to receive what we call “impact letters” from their family members, discussing how much their wives, children, parents, and loved ones have seen addiction become a barrier to their relationship and how much they’ve been missed. This is another way to make men realized they are valued and gives them the opportunity to emotionally connect more with their family.
Issue: Many men make their professional careers a high priority. In fact, with high achievers, their career is often the last area of their lives to be affected by addiction. Work is the source of income, and income is livelihood. Protection over one’s career or job can be a key factor in someone seeking treatment, many times out of fear of being “found out” or exposed. In addition to fear being a barrier, the dynamic of what achievement and success mean are also factors in coming to treatment. Some people become high achievers or overachievers in order to compensate for feeling a lack of self-worth, which is a common theme in addiction. Constantly striving to be more and good enough is a perpetual cycle, which can result in workaholism and the endless cycle and need for overachievement.
Solution: Understanding ways to incorporate recovery into all facets of your life is important as well as realizing that work and recovery can align in a congruent way. In treatment, it’s important for men to reduce their self-reliance; they need to learn how to ask for help. Some treatment centers, like Caron, offer professional programming that help patients determine a work/life/recovery balance, discussing self-disclosure: who do you tell, what to, and how? And, also how to make decisions help to recovery, but not career suicide, such as: 12-step support for travel, asking for hotel rooms with out a mini-bar, or how to create healthy boundaries at work.
Addiction Interaction Disorder
Issue: Addiction is a disease that impacts the way we think, feel and behave. Many times when we think of addiction, we think of chemicals that change our mood, also known as “mood and mind altering chemicals.” Addiction Interaction Disorder (AID) acknowledges other addictions that also impact the way we think, feel and behave. AID is seen in our society frequently; the mixture of alcohol and casinos, sex and cocaine, and alcohol and trading, for instance, are all examples. Sometimes other addictions create more destruction, consequences, and pain than chemicals.
Solution: It’s important for a treatment program to treat all aspects of the disease, not solely the issue of substance abuse. It’s important for men to become spiritually fit and emotionally congruent. Rather than solely focusing on work and money, they need to learn how to look inward and become free and comfortable in their own skin. It’s important to help them find a healthy and balanced way of being.
The above issues and solutions highlight the importance of gender-specific treatment for men. Men and women have unique concerns and issues. In treatment, it’s important that an individualized plan is created to help address these. Learn more about Caron’s Adult Men Program.