Drug misuse can affect anyone, from any background or with any amount of fame or fortune. There is no limit to who can be impacted by this horrible illness, both directly and indirectly.

Children of parents who suffer from addiction often carry with them emotional burdens for much of their lives. Parents of children who misuse drugs or alcohol find similar struggles in trying to help their sons or daughters overcome the obstacles of addiction. Friends worry about their friends who have substance use disorders, and siblings can feel pain for their siblings who are misusing drugs or alcohol.

Support groups often experience the burden of a loved one’s addiction, but the influences from social networks and family structures can also be the cause of addiction.

The Recovery Village surveyed 400 people from all over the United States about the impact of their family’s history of addiction on their own substance use disorder. A little more than 10 percent of respondents who said they had suffered, or currently suffer, from addiction put fault for the illness on a “family member who faced addiction.” A similar percentage of respondents said that family history is the biggest contributing factor for their addiction.

However, within these results was the simple fact that an overwhelmingly larger number of males than females had a history of substance misuse or were presently suffering from addiction. So why are men in the United States at a greater risk of developing a substance use disorder?

Differences in Male and Female Drug Misuse

An individual’s gender can play a major role in their development, including their personality and abiding by social norms. As cited in numerous reports, including one from The Telegraph in 2014, more males than females are addicted to harmful substances. The gap is large, too, as the report states men are three times as likely as females to frequently take drugs.

In the midst of an opioid crisis in the United States, young adults ages 24 to 35 were hit hardest by deaths resulting from this drug class. According to a report in The Atlantic, men accounted for two-thirds of all opioid deaths in 2016.

The Recovery Village’s survey included questions about family history with addiction and each respondent’s past and present substance misuse issues. Most of the respondents were females, but most of those who said they once suffered, or still suffer, from addiction were males.

There were 134 respondents who said that they had struggled, or currently struggle, with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Nearly 41 percent of the 175 males surveyed said that they had a substance use disorder in the past or have one now, compared to only 28.5 percent of the 225 females who took the survey. There were similar gender discrepancies when respondents were asked about which of their family members struggled with an addiction.

Around 37 percent of respondents said that their father suffered from addiction, while only 17.99 percent said that their mother had a substance use disorder. Nearly 30 percent said that an uncle had an addiction, compared to only 17 percent of respondents’ aunts. When looking at grandparents, nearly 18 percent of respondents had a grandfather who suffered from an addiction while not even 10 percent had grandmothers afflicted by this disease.

Why is this wide gap between males and females present? There can be many answers to explain the difference.

Family, Friends and Society: The Cycle of Male Substance Misuse

Substance misuse can materialize from many different factors in someone’s life, including a family member’s addiction, influences from friends or genetic disposition to risky behaviors.

The Telegraph article “Why Do Men Take More Drugs Than Women?” cites Dr. Adam Winstock, a psychiatrist, who specializes in addiction and drug misuse. He believes that males are more prone to take risks and drug misuse falls within that type of lifestyle. However, that isn’t the only reason males are more prone to misuse.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s study on the subject argues that males are exposed to substance misuse more often during adolescence because of influence from their peer groups. An adolescent male can convince other male friends to experiment with drugs or alcohol, which can form a pattern that eventually leads to drug misuse and addiction. However, the pattern of male teenagers influencing their friends to drink alcohol and take drugs often starts outside of a peer group. So what pushes over the first domino?

The U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health conducted research on the effects that parents who misuse drugs or alcohol can have on their kids. Findings show that by young adulthood, 53 percent of these children showed “evidence (of) an alcohol or drug use disorder as compared to 25 percent of their peers.”

How is the cycle of addiction connected to males more than females? Around 54 percent of men who took The Recovery Village’s survey said that their family’s past with addiction led to their own substance use disorder. By comparison, only 49 percent of women said this.

These revelations, combined with the fact that more men misuse substances than women, show that males are more likely to be influenced by their family members to try drugs or alcohol. Additionally, since more survey respondents had male family members with an addiction than female family members, there is a link between male family members influencing younger males to experiment with drugs or alcohol.

How to Talk to a Friend or Family Member With an Addiction

If you have a loved one who suffers from an addiction, whether it’s drugs or alcohol, now is the time to help them. The Recovery Village has rehabilitation facilities in five states and provides numerous resources on how to communicate and help people close to you. For example, The Friends and Family Portal gives some suggestions on how a support group can play an important role in a person’s recovery process.

Even if the substance misuse does not seem to negatively impact that person’s life, a substance use disorder can have an indirect effect on many people connected to them. High-functioning people who misuse alcohol often seem fine on the surface but can actually be struggling internally. The most important aspect of approaching the topic of addiction within a support network is knowing how to breach the topic. Whether it’s an intervention in a group setting or a one-on-one conversation, reaching out and offering love and support can be one of the best ways to inspire someone who is suffering to seek help.

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