How Drugs Affect Men’s Brains

How Drugs Affect Men’s Brains

Because of their hormones and chemical make up, men’s brain respond in unique ways to drugs

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines drug addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by drug-seeking behaviors in spite of the problems of drug use. Addiction is a disease of the brain because drugs actually change the brain over time; these changes can last a lifetime and are the primary reason why breaking drug addiction can be so difficult. Because men’s and women’s brains are different, addiction impacts each sex uniquely. Hormones, brain chemicals and brain development all factor in to the differences between men and women, so understand when and why those differences develop to customize addiction treatment for the man in your life who abuses drugs.

The Male Brain

According to WebMD, Israeli researchers recently found differences between the brains of males and females as early as 26 weeks into pregnancy. Using ultrasounds, scientists could see that the bridge of nerve tissue that connects the left and right sides of the brain was thicker in females than in males even at this early stage of development. Further study indicates that this area of the brain remains stronger in females than in males throughout adulthood. Researchers are also using brain imaging to map blood flow to parts of the brain in both men and women—these maps compare how men and women process language as study subjects listened to a novel. When males listened, only one side of their brain was activated. When females listened, both sides of the brain were active, showing that females process language differently than males. However, the part of the brain that processes math and geometry matures about four years earlier in males than in females. Although many of the disparities found in male and female brains even out over time, their brains remain distinct throughout life.

The Male Brain on Drugs

People use drugs for a variety of reasons. For many, drug addiction begins after using habit-forming prescription drugs. For others, addiction is the result of recreational drug use that got out of control. In either case, the characteristics of addiction are the same: once drug dependence forms, the primary reasons to keep using are to experience the same feelings of euphoria, relaxation and escape from reality. For people who use drugs to increase focus and production, the idea of living life without a drug simply seems impossible.

In 2006, the NIDA studied the effects of nicotine, cocaine and alcohol on the brain, and it found that men’s and women’s brains responded differently to these substances. Nicotine seemed to have more of a positive mood-altering effect in women than in men, which might explain why it is more difficult for women to stop smoking than for men. Furthermore, the use of cocaine and alcohol together also gave women more of a “feel good” experience than the men who participated in the study. These facts may explain why men often need more of the same drug than women to achieve the same level of pleasure. In any case, these studies underscore the need for further research in gender-specific addiction treatment rather than simply a cookie-cutter response to the problem. To put it bluntly, the more rehab caters to the unique differences in each addict, the more likely recovery will be.

Drug Treatment for Men

Like all successful drug treatment programs, treatment for male drug addicts begins with medically supervised detox. This process gives the body the opportunity to rid itself of the toxins of drugs, and it also increases the likelihood of rehab success, because it breaks physical addiction. The next step after detox is diagnosis, during which doctors and psychotherapists determine if any mental illness caused or contributed to the addiction. If a Dual Diagnosis is reached (meaning a drug addict indeed has a co-occurring mental illness), then a combination of medications and psychotherapy is used to treat the

patient. If there is no mental illness diagnosis, then the addict in treatment engages individual, group and family therapy to understand her addiction and what it takes to live without drugs. Meditation, yoga, exercise programs, nutrition classes and other holistic treatment methods are also used to heal the body, mind and spirit during drug treatment. After treatment ends, therapists and treatment facilities will help patients find ongoing support groups, because getting involved in one of these programs is the best way to guard against relapse.

Find Help for a Male Drug Addict

Men and women react differently to drugs for a variety of reasons—brain chemistry, hormonal differences and even environmental factors can all come into play. Understand the differences between men’s and women’s brains to begin fighting the battle against drug addiction. If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse, we are here for you. Call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline right now to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.