Although the reasons for substance abuse and subsequent seeking help for addiction are as varied as any human population can be, there is a pattern of sameness in among those men voluntarily going into rehab.
The seven characteristics presented below relate to what is going on at the point men seek help, not to the years when usage turned to habitual substance abuse and then to addiction. Some of the characteristics, but not all, apply to women as well as men. I have become aware that certain things emerge in a group of men that did not surface when men were in a coed group.
Since the characteristics are more psychological and spiritual than physical, they apply whether the addiction is to alcohol or other drugs.
- Alcohol and drugs help men suppress feelings they are worthless and undeserving. These horrible feelings usually emanate from unresolved trauma, sometimes going back to childhood. This is sad, because all unresolved trauma is treatable even after years have passed. Most of the other themes below also have traumatic origins.
- Drinking and drugging help men avoid facing a profound lack of self-respect. The silver lining is that if they had acknowledged how little respect they had for themselves, say 10 years earlier, they might have suicided or died through other reckless action. Many have.
- Many alcoholic and drug-addicted men carry a lot of anger, and along with the anger they often have a fear they will become violent and hurt someone. Drinking calms them, at least temporarily. The problem is it eventually becomes an addiction. In my experience healing the origins of anger trumps managing anger every time.
- Often by the time men seek rehab they are mired in feelings of hopelessness about their addiction, about their marriages, about their careers, about life or about all of these. Yes they may project an image of bravado and self-confidence, but underneath there is a loss of hope. They go to rehab as their last hope.
- Men who have turned to alcohol or drugs often carry a great deal of shame about not being able to make their wives happy or otherwise care for them. Of course, each of us has responsibility for our own happiness, but that does not stop men from subconsciously taking on that responsibility. This is a peculiarly male burden.
- Men may come to terms with their addiction at any time of life, but middle age is prime time. It is in middle age that we all find ourselves facing up to the big questions about the meaning of life and the meaning and purpose of our own lives in particular. Alcohol or drugs may cover a man’s inadequacy to face the big questions. Unfortunately, it may be the failure of a second marriage or the death of a child that pushes him to clean up so he can tackle life’s big questions and begin to create a meaningful and purposeful second half of life.
- Finally, alcohol and drug usage foster isolation. They help people deny their connections to one another, to the universe, to God, to their higher powers, to their true selves. In other words substance abuse is a spiritual blocker. Recovery from an addiction is often accompanied by an awakening of their spirituality.
If any of these seven fits your husband, excellent treatment programs are available.
If you are a functioning alcoholic or drug addict and are reading this, do ask yourself honestly if any of these fit you. Perhaps it’s time to take a hard look at your life and make some changes while you still can.