Men More Likely to Seek Treatment for Alcoholism
Women and men differ significantly in the amount of alcohol they can safely consume, as well as in the types of harm they suffer from excessive alcohol intake. However, researchers don’t really know if women and men also differ in their likelihood of seeking treatment for serious alcohol-related problems. In a study published in March 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from two U.S. universities used survey data from a nationwide, federal project to compare women’s rate of treatment utilization for alcoholism to men’s rate of treatment utilization. These researchers also investigated whether racial/ethnic background has an influence on each gender’s likelihood of seeking alcoholism treatment.
Women and Alcohol
Compared to the average man, the average woman consumes less alcohol before becoming intoxicated. Two factors largely account for this gender-based difference: a woman’s generally smaller body size and typically higher blood-alcohol content for any given amount of alcohol consumed, regardless of body size. When they drink, women are uniquely susceptible to certain health problems that may also occur in men. Prime examples include increased risks for experiencing a form of serious liver inflammation called alcoholic hepatitis and increased risks for developing heart disease as a result of ongoing, excessive alcohol intake. In addition, women have a range of gender-specific, pregnancy-related risks stemming from drinking, including the chance of giving birth to a child affected by a highly damaging condition called fetal alcohol syndrome. Public health guidelines reflect the heightened alcohol-related risks for women by asking pregnant women to avoid all drinking and recommending that non-pregnant women drink substantially less than men on both a daily and weekly basis.
Alcoholism Treatment Utilization
There are a number of effective treatments available for a man or woman affected by alcoholism or non-addicted alcohol abuse. Examples of these treatments include medications that help ease the transition through alcohol detoxification and the initial stages of abstinence, behavioral therapies designed to help recovering drinkers understand and change their alcohol-related actions and mutual self-help groups (including 12-step groups) that rely on peer assistance to support recovering drinkers and help them maintain sobriety. Unfortunately, figures compiled by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism indicate that at least 75 percent of people in the U.S. with diagnosable alcohol problems never seek treatment from any of the available options. In a significant number of cases, treatment only begins when some outside force (e.g., the legal system, employers or loved ones) compels or repeatedly urges the affected individual.
Are There Gender-Based Differences?
In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland used data from a large-scale federal project conducted in the early 2000s, called the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, to compare the alcoholism treatment utilization patterns of women to the alcoholism treatment utilization patterns of men. They gathered information from 3,311 people between the ages of 18 and 44 affected by alcoholism at some point in their lifetimes. Specifically, the researchers wanted to know if there are gender-based differences in whether treatment is sought, or in how quickly people with alcoholism seek treatment. They also wanted to know if racial/ethnic background has an impact on treatment utilization or the speed of treatment seeking.
The researchers found that only 19.5 percent of the study participants had sought treatment for alcoholism. They concluded that, on the whole, women with alcoholism seek treatment for their condition substantially less often than men. However, they also concluded that, when treatment is sought, women tend to do so at a younger age than men and also experience a shorter time gap between the onset of diagnosable problems and the utilization of treatment. When they explored the role of racial/ethnic background, the researchers concluded that the gender differences they observed held true for all three groups under consideration: European Americans, African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos. However, they also concluded that the difference in age at treatment utilization and time to treatment only reaches a level of statistical importance among European American men and women.
Overall, the study’s authors concluded that the gender-based differences in alcoholism treatment-seeking among European American men and women is significant, in terms of both age at the initiation of treatment and the amount of time between developing alcohol problems and seeking help. They believe that heightened awareness of these differences may help public health officials identify specific factors that contribute to a lack of treatment or a delay in treatment.
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