Several studies have found significant gender differences in how and why people relapse during and after treatment for addiction and substance abuse. Men are more likely to relapse and have unique reasons for having a slip. They also respond to a relapse differently than women. These specialized gender factors are important to acknowledge so that each patient in substance abuse treatment can be given the best tools for avoiding and coping with relapses.
Why Men Relapse
Men have been found to have more positive experiences before a relapse, while women felt negative emotions before relapsing. Men reported that they felt confident and entitled before relapsing. They felt they could handle a little drug use without getting out of control or that they deserved a reward. After relapsing, men are more likely to justify the action.
To better prevent a relapse, a man needs to be aware of when he is letting his guard down and feeling overly confident. More self-awareness can help men who feel they are doing so well that they can handle temptations or that they deserve a little treat for staying clean for a period of time. These attitudes don’t seem dangerous, which is what makes them exactly that.
Group Counseling and Support
One reason that researchers have found for the different rates of relapse between men and women is participation in group counseling sessions or support group meetings. A study looked at 148 men and 182 women participating in outpatient treatment for crack, cocaine or marijuana use. The researchers interviewed the patients both during treatment and six months afterward. While 32 percent of the male patients had relapsed six months later, only 22 percent of the women had.
Some obvious possible explanations for the discrepancy were discounted: Women in the study used drugs in similar quantities as the men and received just as much support from a social network of friends and family. What differed, though, was the rate at which men and women attended group counseling sessions during recovery. The women attended an average of 10.9 meetings per month, while the men went to only 7.9.
The researchers explain the difference as women being generally more willing to engage in treatment. Studies show that the more time spent in treatment and the more engaged someone is in treatment, the less likely he or she will be to relapse. Group counseling is particularly intensive and engaging and was shown to benefit women. It has the potential to benefit men just as much, if they attend as often.
Power of Marriage in Preventing Relapse
Men and women also differ in how marriage can affect relapse. Married women are more likely to relapse in recovery, while the opposite is true for men. Being married has a protective effect for men. Researchers explain this phenomenon by suggesting that men struggling with addiction are more likely to be married to women who do not use drugs or drink heavily. Being around a non-user supports sobriety for men. Women, on the other hand, who use drugs or drink are more likely to be married to men who do the same.
The ways in which men relapse and what they do after a relapse are important to understand. Men relapse more often than women, which means that they need more support in learning how to live in recovery. With more research will come a better understanding and better strategies to help men stay sober.