How early intervention could decrease percentage of substance abuse in men

Drugs"It was pretty ugly. I just know I never want to live that way again."

Roland Vandal was on the street, with only three bags of clothing and nothing more. He had a severe substance abuse problem and was involved with gangs. In 2002, he attempted suicide by a methadone overdose – a drug used to wean addicts off heroin.

But before all of that, six different people had sexually and physically abused Vandal. One of the assaulters was his boxing coach, when he was only 12 years old. Not knowing how to deal with the trauma, he turned to drugs and alcohol – a condition known as co-occurring disorder.

He is not alone in experiencing this problem. A 2012 Statistics Canada mental health survey suggests males are far more likely to develop substance use disorder (alcohol or drug), than females.

Specifically the survey states men between the ages of 25-44 years were 31.9 per cent more likely to have had such a disorder compared to 15.6 per cent of women. Even in the 65 years and above age group, 25.6 per cent of men had a substance use disorder compared to only four per cent of women.Drug-Money-ShotMen are two to three times more likely to become addicted to drugs than women, and five times more likely to be addicted to alcohol.

Photo Illustration by Skye Anderson

Addiction experts aren't sure why this takes place,, but helping men understand and deal with their emotions early in life may help them from becoming substance-dependent.

This problem is an ongoing issue and is not unique to Canada. In the 1980s, a survey was conducted in the United States regarding substance use disorder.

According to an academic article entitled "Gender Differences in Substance Abuse Disorders," written by Dr. Kathleen T. Brady and Dr. Carrie L. Randall, from the Medical University of South Carolina, the survey states men were five times more likely to develop alcohol-substance use disorder than women. The study also suggests men are two to three times more likely to develop drug-substance use disorder, as compared to women.

David Berner, who has been member of the drug treatment community since the 1960s, says his explanation for this large difference is women tend to have the natural instinct to create a home and protect their family, whereas men tend to be wanderers, getting caught up in work and other social challenges. Berner is founder of Winnipeg's X-Kalay Foundation Society, a residential treatment center for alcoholics and drug addicts, which was first established in Vancouver.

Also according to Berner, parenting is another major factor that helps explain why men are more prone to substance use disorder. He states belief that the last three to four generations, generally speaking, have not had good father figures.

"In terms of addiction, it's no surprise to me, or others, that we have twice as many men than women. It's because they are lost little boys," Berner says.

In Berner's experience, approximately 66 per cent of his treatment group's membership was males, and about 33 per cent were women.

That estimation is borne out by an Alcoholics Anonymous survey in 2011 that concluded 65 per cent of their groups were men and 35 per cent were women (for both Canada and the United States).

Wendy Froberg, a psychologist who has worked with children and families in Calgary, supports Berner's suggestion that women are more hormonally in touch with their emotions because they are the child bearers.

In addition, according to Froberg, women have a closer connection between the two hemispheres of the brain. This allows them to integrate their emotions better than men – a reason why more men turn to alcohol or drugs to deal with their emotions, more so than women.

Froberg also suggests testosterone, which correlates with risk taking behaviour or aggression, might be another reason why men are more prone to addiction.

"Men have a chemical-psychological make up that makes them feel drawn to those kinds of adrenaline sports and activities," says Froberg.

Sexual abuse, family history with alcoholism or drug abuse, neglect and childhood trauma can also turn men (and women) to drugs.

Froberg mentioned former Calgary Flames player Theoren Fleury as an example. In his 2009 book "Playing with Fire," the NHL star admitted to having a case of substance use disorder as a result of being sexually abused by his junior hockey coach Graham James.

Drug-FullExperts say men's testosterone can serve as a reason why they are more likely to be dependent on drugs and alcohol.

Photo illustration by Skye Anderson
"Whenever I see an adult man with substance abuse, I always check for trauma," says Froberg.

Froberg sees early intervention as a means of preventing problems that could occur later on and a way of decreasing the number of men who turn to alcohol and drugs to alleviate their pain. She thinks it is important for boys to know how to deal with their emotions and to be taught how to do more of the things that girls do naturally.

Carolyn Triscott, registered psychologist for Amundson and Associates and former AADAC tobacco counselor, suggests more cost effective and accessible services should be provided for men dealing with this issue.

"It is important to explore the role that alcohol [or drugs] plays in peoples lives. Oftentimes, alcohol is used as a coping strategy. An intervention that taught men how to express their feelings more effectively could help them develop a greater sense of self-efficacy and confidence," says Triscott.

Vandal agrees men need to learn how to deal with their emotions., He is currently working on a book about post-traumatic stress disorder and the misunderstood world of mental illness.

"It was pretty ugly. I just know I never want to live that way again."

Roland Vandal was on the street, with only three bags of clothing and nothing more. He had a severe substance abuse problem and was involved with gangs. In 2002, he attempted suicide by a methadone overdose – a drug used to wean addicts off heroin.

But before all of that, six different people had sexually and physically abused Vandal. One of the assaulters was his boxing coach, when he was only 12 years old. Not knowing how to deal with the trauma, he turned to drugs and alcohol – a condition known as co-occurring disorder.

He is not alone in experiencing this problem. A 2012 Statistics Canada mental health survey suggests males are far more likely to develop substance use disorder (alcohol or drug), than females.

Specifically the survey states men between the ages of 25-44 years were 31.9 per cent more likely to have had such a disorder compared to 15.6 per cent of women. Even in the 65 years and above age group, 25.6 per cent of men had a substance use disorder compared to only four per cent of women.

Addiction experts aren't sure why this takes place,, but helping men understand and deal with their emotions early in life may help them from becoming substance-dependent.

This problem is an ongoing issue and is not unique to Canada. In the 1980s, a survey was conducted in the United States regarding substance use disorder.

According to an academic article entitled "Gender Differences in Substance Abuse Disorders," written by Dr. Kathleen T. Brady and Dr. Carrie L. Randall, from the Medical University of South Carolina, the survey states men were five times more likely to develop alcohol-substance use disorder than women. The study also suggests men are two to three times more likely to develop drug-substance use disorder, as compared to women.

David Berner, who has been member of the drug treatment community since the 1960s, says his explanation for this large difference is women tend to have the natural instinct to create a home and protect their family, whereas men tend to be wanderers, getting caught up in work and other social challenges. Berner is founder of Winnipeg's X-Kalay Foundation Society, a residential treatment center for alcoholics and drug addicts, which was first established in Vancouver.

Also according to Berner, parenting is another major factor that helps explain why men are more prone to substance use disorder. He states belief that the last three to four generations, generally speaking, have not had good father figures.

"In terms of addiction, it's no surprise to me, or others, that we have twice as many men than women. It's because they are lost little boys," Berner says.

In Berner's experience, approximately 66 per cent of his treatment group's membership was males, and about 33 per cent were women.

That estimation is borne out by an Alcoholics Anonymous survey in 2011 that concluded 65 per cent of their groups were men and 35 per cent were women (for both Canada and the United States).

Wendy Froberg, a psychologist who has worked with children and families in Calgary, supports Berner's suggestion that women are more hormonally in touch with their emotions because they are the child bearers.

In addition, according to Froberg, women have a closer connection between the two hemispheres of the brain. This allows them to integrate their emotions better than men – a reason why more men turn to alcohol or drugs to deal with their emotions, more so than women.

Froberg also suggests testosterone, which correlates with risk taking behaviour or aggression, might be another reason why men are more prone to addiction.

"Men have a chemical-psychological make up that makes them feel drawn to those kinds of adrenaline sports and activities," says Froberg.

Sexual abuse, family history with alcoholism or drug abuse, neglect and childhood trauma can also turn men (and women) to drugs.

Froberg mentioned former Calgary Flames player Theoren Fleury as an example. In his 2009 book "Playing with Fire," the NHL star admitted to having a case of substance use disorder as a result of being sexually abused by his junior hockey coach Graham James.

"Whenever I see an adult man with substance abuse, I always check for trauma," says Froberg.

Froberg sees early intervention as a means of preventing problems that could occur later on and a way of decreasing the number of men who turn to alcohol and drugs to alleviate their pain. She thinks it is important for boys to know how to deal with their emotions and to be taught how to do more of the things that girls do naturally.

Carolyn Triscott, registered psychologist for Amundson and Associates and former AADAC tobacco counselor, suggests more cost effective and accessible services should be provided for men dealing with this issue.

"It is important to explore the role that alcohol [or drugs] plays in peoples lives. Oftentimes, alcohol is used as a coping strategy. An intervention that taught men how to express their feelings more effectively could help them develop a greater sense of self-efficacy and confidence," says Triscott.

Vandal agrees men need to learn how to deal with their emotions., He is currently working on a book about post-traumatic stress disorder and the misunderstood world of mental illness.

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