From birth, you are assigned a role, a destiny that is reduced to one word: anatomy. In the hospital as a newborn, you’re given a pink blanket or a blue blanket and for the rest of your life, your biological sex determines how you are supposed to live your life, according to societal norms. As a boy you’re taught to be strong, be a leader and that “boys don’t cry.” As a girl, you may be told to smile and nod, be quiet and sit pretty. While modern gender roles are being challenged, these stereotypes have long been perpetuated throughout history.
You’re either a man or a woman and your anatomy determines how you respond to various aspects of life. Some responses are biological but some are taught. As the gender gap continues to close, it can be shocking to look back at our history and recognize the vast differences between the two sexes.
Men have often been the face of addiction, but according to Harvard Health Publishing, women who misuse substances develop addictions more quickly, their addiction harms their body at a faster rate and their addiction is harder to overcome. Women also experience depression and anxiety at higher rates than men. For these reasons — in addition to the perception of women being the weaker sex — pharmaceutical companies have often targeted women with advertising for their products for almost as long as prescription drugs have been in existence.
In 1950, Valium, also known as “mother’s little helper”, 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. The phrase even became a song written and performed by the Rolling Stones, this solidified Valium’s place in pop culture and modern society.
Though some things have changed regarding gender equality, women are often still regarded as sadder or more “emotional” than men. According to the Office on Women’s Health, women are more than twice as likely to be given a prescription medication for mental health disorders and if the medication is a painkiller, it will be prescribed at a higher dose and for a longer duration than men. While women have historically been more affected by opioid and benzodiazepine dependencies, a recent survey conducted by The Recovery Village found that males are using benzodiazepines, specifically Valium, at higher rates than women. Of the 400 participants, 48 percent of men (who had responded they had taken benzodiazepines before) had taken Valium compared to 40 percent of women.
Out of 54 male participants that had taken benzodiazepines, nearly half had taken Valium. This surprising shift in higher rates of men using “mother’s little helper” may be a reflection of societal shifts.
The Age of Mr. Mom
Historically, Valium was considered a “women’s drug” that was prescribed for effeminate nerves, but as The Recovery Village’s survey revealed, more men are using “mother’s little helper” to get through their day.
According to the Pew Research Center, the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the last 25 years. While the Great Recession had some influence on the shift of the traditional homemaker, the number of men staying at home to care for the household was on the rise regardless. More men today, particularly younger men, report that they have more desire to be a good father than have a successful career. In a recent survey by the Washington Post, 77 percent of fathers said they wished they had spent more time with their children and more than 50 percent reported that if they could afford to, they would have become stay-at-home dads.
While some social issues are becoming more acceptable in society, like interracial marriages and an increase of women in executive roles, the idea of a stay-at-home dad isn’t always regarded as admirable. In fact, some dads say that they’re perceived as odd. There is a stigma surrounding men who stay at home and take care of their house and children. In fact, several organizations like the National At-Home Dad Network (NAHDN) encourage fathers to be proud of the path they’ve chosen.
However, the pressures of society and even being a stay-at-home dad itself can increase anxiety and depression. According to the Pew Research, 35 percent of stay-at-home dads are ill or disabled so this new way of life may not even be something 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 percent of fathers took some type of prescription medication compared to 54 percent of men without children. Over half of the fathers that took prescription medications reported that the kind of medication they took was Valium while 70 percent of mothers surveyed took Xanax.
The fact the majority of fathers who are stay-at-home dads are ill or disabled may be why 91 percent of fathers who take prescription medications take it for medical treatment. These fathers may not also be aware how addictive benzodiazepines can be, because 30 percent of fathers don’t think that benzodiazepines could lead to illicit substance misuse like opioids have, despite reports that benzodiazepines could be the next national drug epidemic.
Daddy’s Daycare Depression
According to Pew, the next type of stay-at-home dads are those who are having difficulty finding a job. Not being able to find a job could increase depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. Even with support groups and organizations like the NAHDN, the reality for most stay-at-home dads is that strangers are often suspicious of men’s ability to be a caretaker, friends can be patronizing and the stay-at-home moms are guarded about letting a dad join the club.
In addition to taking on household responsibilities, caring for the children and breaking down the barrier of gender norms, stay-at-home dads must also accept that they aren’t the breadwinner for their family. Throughout history it has been taught and instilled in little boys that it is the men who go out, get jobs and bring home the bacon — not fry it up in a pan for the kids’ breakfast, that’s the mom’s job. A 2013 study found that men who were financially dependent were more likely to get treatment for disorders like anxiety, insomnia, and erectile dysfunction because they felt inadequate.
As the number of stay-at-home dads continues to rise, will the number of Valium dependencies increase as well? Similarly to the gender gap in the corporate world, maybe society can progress into accepting men in caretaker positions. In the meantime, “mother’s little helper” appears to be making a comeback, but this time at the request of fathers.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a benzodiazepine use disorder, recovery is possible. At The Recovery Village, professional and experienced staff offer a full continuum of care. Call and speak with a representative to learn more about treatment options.