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How Does Depression And Substance Abuse Impact Men Differently Than Women?

Dual Diagnosis
How Does Depression And Substance Abuse Impact Men Differently Than Women?

How Does Depression And Substance Abuse Impact Men Differently Than Women?

When it comes to clinical depression, it’s typical to think of it as a disorder that largely affects women. However, men suffer from depression too, and it has the same profound impact on their mood, energy levels, and quality of life. Just as with women, it’s common for men with depression to abuse substances – particularly marijuana, stimulants and alcohol abuse – as a means of coping and alleviating symptoms.

While women are more likely than men to suffer from clinical depression [1], as many as six million American men experience symptoms every year [2]. Symptoms of depression in men sometimes don’t mirror those found in women. Research indicates that males may not always struggle with overwhelming sadness or excessive guilt. Instead, their symptoms more commonly include fatigue, anger, irritability, and sleep disturbances [3].

The Depression And Substance Abuse Connection

Depression and substance abuse frequently occur together. For example, it’s estimated that 40% of all people with depression struggle with alcohol abuse [4] – that’s a staggering statistic.  Depressed men may also smoke marijuana, which can elicit feelings of relaxation and numb overwhelming negative emotions, like irritability.

While alcohol and marijuana are commonly abused, some depressed men abuse stimulants, like cocaine, speed, or prescription medications used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. These drugs can produce a pleasurable high that can offset symptoms. For instance, a depressed man may take a stimulant medication, like Adderall or Ritalin, in order to find the energy to go to work.

How Does Depression And Substance Abuse Impact Men Differently Than WomenIn some cases, depression symptoms appear before a substance abuse problem. Feelings of helplessness or worthlessness lead some individuals to self-medicate with substances. Initially, doing so seems to numb or relieve symptoms. However, in reality, many substances negatively affect brain chemicals linked to mood regulation. Many men drink or use drugs to feel better, sadly end up feeling worse.  Rather than stop, he continues to drink or use in order to get high.

This vicious cycle can also start with substance abuse. In particular, depressant substances, such as alcohol, lower levels of serotonin.  Serotonin is one of the chemicals in the brain that helps keeps mood stable.  Over time, the alcohol abuse may actually trigger or contribute to symptoms of depression. Chronic stimulant use is also linked to depression. An addicted male will suffer withdrawal, usually marked by a range of uncomfortable symptoms which include depression.

Why Men Don’t Seek Treatment For Depression As Often As Women

In the U.S., women are diagnosed with depression as anywhere from two to four times more frequently than men [5]. This gap may stem from several factors, including:

Traditional ideas about men – Traditionally, emotional expression hasn’t been highly valued among males. Expressing sadness, frustration, or helplessness can be – and often is – seen as a sign of weakness or lack of discipline. A man may hesitate or refuse to seek depression and substance abuse treatment because he worries it will damage his masculinity. Preconceived ideas about men and substance use can play a role as well. For instance, having a few beers after work every night may not only seem normal, but also expected, especially if a man’s father or grandfather did the same.

Lack of knowledge – It’s likely that some men don’t seek treatment for depression or substance abuse because they’re simply not aware they have a problem. It can be easy to write off negative feelings as a temporary setback or a normal reaction to severe stress or a major loss. A man may believe that if he just keeps pushing forward his emotions will eventually stabilize.

Substance abuse can be hard to recognize as well.  This is particularly true if he’s abusing prescription drugs. He may take them with the belief (or rationale) that they’re much safer than street drugs or okay to use just because they’ve been prescribed by a physician. Likewise, a depressed substance abuser may not realize that seemingly harmless and more acceptable substances like marijuana and alcohol can alter the brain over time and lead to an addiction.

Lack of motivation – Experiencing a lack of motivation is one of the many symptoms of depression. A person can feel as though he has no energy, making it a challenge to get off the sofa – much less seek professional help.

Stigma – Sometimes men won’t seek treatment because they want to avoid the stigma of having a “mental illness”. There’s stigma linked to substance abuse as well. It’s hard to ask for help when a man believes others will be quick to label him as an addict. Drug abuse, in particular, carries a strong stigma that potentially affects relationships and work.

The Importance Of Mental Health Treatment

Psychiatric disorders, like depression and substance abuse, require treatment just like any medical condition such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer.  Mental health conditions are complex disorders that have a number of causes, some of them biological in nature. Although it can be difficult to reach out for depression and substance abuse treatment, professional help is crucial and can be highly beneficial.

Co-occurring conditions have a significant negative impact on your life. For example, your relationships are probably suffering. There may be frequent conflicts with those you love. You may be unable to be the father you want to be to your children. Additionally, depression and drug or alcohol abuse affect sexual performance, which can further strain your relationship with a significant other or spouse.

Work performance is likely suffering, too. Substance abuse combined with depression may make you more prone to calling in late or sick. Frequent absences can have serious consequences.  It can also be harder to perform assigned tasks and complete important projects, leaving them undone or forcing colleagues to pick up the slack. When workplace performance suffers, you’re less likely to hold onto a job and may have trouble finding a new one.

Depression and drug or alcohol abuse also adversely impact your physical and emotional health. For example, depression has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease in men [6]. Research suggests that men with heart failure who had moderate to severe depression were nearly four times more likely to die than those who weren’t depressed [7]. In addition, depression and substance abuse are both connected to a higher risk of suicide. It’s estimated that, overall, men are four to five times more likely to complete suicide than women [5].  This is largely due to the fact that males are more likely to use more lethal methods, such as shooting themselves.

Depression And Substance Abuse Treatment

If you have symptoms of depression and abuse substances, you need treatment. Contact a mental health professional or drug treatment facility that offers “dual diagnosis” treatment. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your primary care physician for a referral. Once you’re working with a mental health professional, be open about all symptoms and fully disclose your substance abuse habits. He or she will diagnose you and develop a treatment plan that may include residential or outpatient therapy, support groups, and, if necessary, medication.

Don’t let life fall apart because of your symptoms. Help is available. Reach out now for depression and substance abuse treatment to reclaim your physical and emotional health.

Read More About Depression And Drug Treatment



[1] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1mdd_adult.shtml

[2] http://www.apa.org/research/action/men.aspx

[3] http://www.apa.org/research/action/men.aspx

[4] http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/national-survey-sharpens-picture-major-depression-among-us-adults

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3140791/#!po=4.16667

[6]   http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/10/30/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.002065.abstract.html?ijkey=xgzTuA4JxivZbxO&keytype=ref

[7] http://newsroom.heart.org/news/depression-in-heart-failure-patients-233191


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