As gender roles and norms evolve, researchers are examining how these changes relate to prescription drug use. More specifically, what does benzodiazepine use look like in men today compared to in the past?

Historically, benzodiazepines such as Valium were marketed to and used by women primarily, but studies show that male consumption has steadily increased. The number of stay-at-home fathers has doubled in the last 25 years. Being a stay-at-home parent brings its own challenges and responsibilities, and benzodiazepines originally became popular for helping homemakers cope with everyday stress.

To understand what led to the rise in benzodiazepine use in men, long-time gender stereotypes and Valium’s introduction as “mother’s little helper” are important places to begin.

The Past and Present of “Mother’s Little Helper”

Women experience depression and anxiety at higher rates than men. For these reasons — in addition to the stereotype of women being the weaker sex — pharmaceutical companies often targeted women with advertising for their products. This practice took place in doctors’ offices as well. Women are more than twice as likely to be given a prescription medication for mental health disorders. If the medication is a painkiller, it will be prescribed at a higher dose and for a longer duration than a man would receive.

In 1950, Valium was introduced and marketed toward housewives to help them cope with the mundane tasks of their everyday lives. These women were perceived as mentally weak and unable to handle the stresses and anxiety of running a household. By the late 1960s, 20% of American women were regularly taking benzodiazepines.  

Though benzodiazepines were once widely considered a “women’s drug,” a recent survey from The Recovery Village revealed that more men are using drugs like Valium to get through their day. The survey found that males are using benzodiazepines, specifically Valium, at higher rates than women. Of the 400 participants, 48% of men (who had responded they had taken benzodiazepines before) took Valium compared to 40% of women.

The Age of Mr. Mom

While the Great Recession had some influence on the shift of the traditional homemaker, the number of stay-at-home fathers was already rising. More men today report that they’d rather be a good father than have a successful career. In a recent survey by the Washington Post, 77% of fathers said they wished they had spent more time with their children, and more than 50% reported that they would stay at home if they could afford it.

While some social issues are becoming more acceptable in society, there is still a stigma surrounding men who stay at home and take care of their house and children. Some fathers say that they’re perceived as odd. Organizations like the National At-Home Dad Network (NAHDN) encourage fathers to be proud of the path they’ve chosen.

Does Homemaking Lead to Benzodiazepine Use?

While many men would like to care for their household, the pressures of society and even being a stay-at-home father itself can increase anxiety and depression. According to Pew Research Center, 35% of stay-at-home fathers are ill or disabled, so this new way of life may not be something that they chose. Some fathers may be out of options. For example, 23 percent of fathers who stay at home are unable to find work. The same mundane tasks and nervousness that encouraged the use of “mother’s little helper” may now be affecting men in a way that they hadn’t before.

Of the 400 participants in The Recovery Village’s survey, 66% of fathers took some type of prescription medication compared to 54% of men without children. Over half of the fathers who took prescription medications used Valium while 70% of mothers surveyed took Xanax.

The fact that many stay-at-home fathers are ill or disabled may be why 91% of fathers who take prescription medications take it for medical treatment. These fathers may not be aware how addictive benzodiazepines can be — 30% of fathers don’t think that the drug could lead to illicit substance misuse, despite reports that benzodiazepines could be the next national drug epidemic.

Daddy’s Daycare Depression

The next type of stay-at-home fathers includes those who are having difficulty finding a job. Being unable to find work can increase depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. Even with support groups and organizations like the NAHDN, the reality for most stay-at-home fathers is that strangers are often suspicious of men’s abilities to be caretakers. In addition, friends can be patronizing, and stay-at-home mothers are sometimes apprehensive about letting a father figuratively join the club.

While taking on household responsibilities, caring for children and dealing with gender norms, stay-at-home fathers must also accept that they aren’t the breadwinner for their family. Children are often told that men go out, get jobs and make money, and women deal with parental duties and caring for the home. Overcoming this indoctrinated barrier can be difficult for many.

As the number of stay-at-home fathers continues to rise, the number of Valium dependencies could increase as well. As it stands, society has perhaps not fully accepted the idea of men in caretaker positions. Until then, it seems like benzodiazepines have shifted toward becoming “father’s little helper.”

If you or someone you know struggles with benzodiazepine addiction, contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative about personalized treatment programs that address addiction along with any co-occurring mental health disorders. You deserve a healthier future, call today.

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