Men consume significantly higher amounts of alcohol compared to women. They are also more likely to report higher frequencies of intoxication, alcohol abuse, and dependency. Young adult males are twice as likely as women to suffer from alcohol abuse. Driving under the influence, violence and arrests related to alcohol are also higher in men. One of the reasons cited in recent studies focused on ‘traditional’ versus ‘stereotypical’ masculine norms in society which include beliefs and expectations of men in a culture.
Social drinking in the United States is often seen as a cultural symbol of manliness. Organizations and environments which foster masculine identity and subculture encourage excessive drinking (fraternities being the most well known). Drinking and use of drugs are seen as a rite of passage in these environments, putting peer pressure on young men who join to make friends and build community with others.
Masculine norms are a double edged sword in that they can encourage things like excessive drinking which heightens the risk of other issues associated with drinking too much. Sexual promiscuity and risk taking rise more in men who drink excessively than those who do not. In contrast, men who are self-reliant and practice emotional control may be more likely to drink less and not give into peer pressure to conform to masculine norms associated with excessive alcohol consumption. With nothing to prove to peers, the risk of alcohol related disease, health complications, and risk taking behaviors (which can lead to legal problems, social isolation, etc) decrease significantly.
Men who perpetuate masculine norms such as sexual promiscuity may be more likely to develop tendencies towards excessive drinking which lead to alcoholism in the future. Masculine norms, therefore, may indirectly impact alcohol use due to putting pressure on themselves to succeed, date and marry into a higher class and obtain a certain status in society. This puts psychological and physiological strain on men who strive towards these goals rather than focusing on self control as an internal source of willpower which drives attitudes and behaviors.
Understanding “masculine strain theory” which posits that men who push themselves to adhere to societal norms of masculinity and male behavior (achieving status, giving into peer pressure) helps to understand how some men are more prone to alcohol use and related problems. Addiction and substance use disorders are challenging but this theory can help guide society towards a better understanding of what drives masculine culture, how to support men in working towards better outcomes (drinking does not make a man a man, for example) and lifting up men who choose not to ascribe to cultural norms is a good place to start.
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