Men, Anxiety, and Addiction
You may have heard that “Men don’t really get anxiety.” But that’s not correct.
It is true that men are only formally diagnosed with anxiety about half as often as women.
It may even be true that testosterone plays a role in preventing anxiety and its symptoms, though more research is being done to confirm this.
Psychologists believe that the current statistics do not give us a full picture of anxiety’s prevalence in the male population,or of its effects on individual men.
And even if it did, not enough is being done to address men’s struggles with this sometimes debilitating disorder.
What Is Anxiety?
While everyone feels anxious from time to time, an anxiety disorder may be present when these feelings start to interfere with someone’s daily life.
Anxiety is a condition in which one experiences an elevated fear response, often at times that do not logically make sense.
For instance, someone with anxiety may face increased heart-rate when the phone rings, or feel a nearly paralyzing sense of dread while gearing up to perform everyday tasks like buying groceries.
The most famous symptom in those severely afflicted with anxiety is the panic attack.
Panic attacks are episodes of fear response which have outward symptoms that can include hyperventilating, crying, paralysis, or even feeling a need to suddenly excuse yourself from the current task at hand to go to a place with less stimuli.
Anxiety in Men vs. Women
Generally, the symptoms listed above are associated much more strongly with women than with men.
It is more socially acceptable for women to have fears, to admit those fears, and to discuss them or seek treatment for them than for men.
Generally, men are far more likely to feel shame after they experience an elevated fear response.
This could lead to men not seeking treatment for anxiety, skewing the numbers available for gender comparison in anxiety statistics.
Clinical psychologist and anxiety specialist Ellen Hendricks states that every discussion surrounding anxiety, both its symptoms and as a label for a mental condition, are fraught with stigma.
So how many men are suffering with undiagnosed anxiety? It’s hard to tell.
Hendricks says, “While there is no such thing as ‘men’s anxiety’ or ‘women’s anxiety,’ what happens in a society where, for men, fear is still stigmatized? Where boys are still told to suck it up when they’re nervous or afraid? Where it’s okay to feel bravado or rage, but not fear? What are the red herrings that, for men, may actually signal anxiety?”
Men tend to hide their anxiety behind these behaviors and other symptoms:
- Anger: It is much more acceptable for men to be angry than fearful.
- Irritability: When a fear response distracts a man, they may brush off those who are concerned with a platitude like “I’m just cranky.”
- Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Rather than feeling shame from admitting that they may have a problem by seeking treatment, some men self-medicate.
While, of course, none of these deflections are particularly healthy, self-medication poses further risks.
Men and Self-Medication
Men are more likely to self-medicate than women.
In a Canada-based study of those specifically struggling with anxiety, men self-medicated at a rate of 55.4%, compared to women at 44.6%.
Self-medication, however, carries significant risks, and they are higher among men.
Dr. Christina Gregory, in a piece on women with depression and anxiety, notes that while women are more likely to self-medicate with friends or food, men are more likely to self-medicate with drugs, sex, and TV.
Those who self-medicate with drugs and alcohol are more likely to experience co-morbid disorders (depression being the most common), worsening of symptoms, and even suicidal ideation.
Furthermore, the substance being used to alleviate anxiety symptoms at the moment are usually addictive, and can lead to dangerous dependency.
What To Do If A Man in Your Life Is Struggling with Anxiety
Most men who do seek treatment for anxiety were urged to visit a therapist by close friends and family.
That’s not to say that you should be pushy or start insisting that a loved one needs a doctor’s attention every time they are irritable.
However, if you start to see the trends described above, remind the man in your life that he can open up to you and others about any underlying emotions that may be motivating the anger, irritability, or increased substance use.
If they begin to describe feelings that sound like anxiety or admit that they are experiencing anxiety, remind them that it is not weak to seek treatment.
Doctors may have a better idea of whether or not your loved one is experiencing substance dependency.
If your loved one has developed an addiction from self-medication, they may need to enter a rehab. Since they already are struggling with an anxiety disorder, a rehab that offers dual-diagnosis treatment is best.
Remember to let the man in your life know that he is not alone. That other men struggle with anxiety and addiction, and that both are manageable.
They may want you to stay with them each step of the way, picking out doctors and rehab facilities, or they may want to handle things more on their own.
Either way, remember to be supportive and to encourage follow-through on their part.
There Is No Shame in Asking for Help
Both anxiety and addiction are treatable.
While there is undoubtedly some stigma in admitting to having anxiety as a man, those who are close to you will understand.
They can see your other struggles, and they want the best for you.
If your loved is struggling, remind them of these facts.
Stigma is almost certainly playing a role in whether or not people recognize anxiety in men, and whether or not they seek treatment.
At the end of the day, however, it is less important what the actual statistics say about whether or not men are prone to anxiety.
What matters is that an individual experiencing anxiety symptoms get the help that they need.
Derek Wilksen is the Vice President of Serenity Lodge – Lake Arrowhead, a men’s addiction treatment and rehabilitation center in California. He has applied his passion to excellent clinical care for over