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5 Barriers to Treatment of Hegemonic Masculinity

Feb 24, 2020

Hegemonic masculinity has been introduced by many names: the dominant male, toxic masculinity, or often just masculinity. According to numerous experts in the field of behavior, the way masculinity has been defined by society has shaped expectations for how men feel they “should” behave from youth into adulthood, and these behaviors appear to intensify over time—especially related to alcohol and drug use. Today let’s talk about five ways hegemonic masculinity becomes a barrier to treatment for men living with drug or alcohol addiction.

Hegemonic masculinity, or toxic masculinity, may reinforce traditional behaviors associated with manhood that interfere with recognizing the need for drug and alcohol treatment. The celebration of excessive drinking from adolescence on, lack of open communication, expectation of being tough and independent, culture of rule-breaking, and view of admitting a need for help as a “non-masculine” trait can discourage men with substance abuse disorders from addressing the problem or make them feel they need to respond to addiction on their own. Men with drug or alcohol addiction can find confidential help at facilities offering inpatient or intensive outpatient services.

1. Excess is celebrated.

For many young men, the first environment where alcohol use is introduced is in high school or college. In these situations, excessive drinking is encouraged with verbal praise or gestures. The quantity of your consumption becomes an important detail in shaping your social status or your reputation on campus.

As an adult, “overdoing it” still may be giving you some kind of positive attention from other men. Your conversations during social time may include references to a “high tolerance” or how you feel you’re “still okay” after several drinks. When someone comments with concern about your excessive drinking, you may ignore it or begin to exclude them from social outings.

Ask yourself: How am I rewarded by drinking too much?

2. Openness is discouraged.

It’s easy to be open about accomplishments, but openness about difficult areas of our life doesn’t come easily for many men. Openly admitting we struggle with understanding something or knowing how to do something makes us feel uncomfortable. We get worried about looking weak so sharing anything about our limitations, including substance use disorders, becomes a risk.

The lack of openness, or candidness, about our lives doesn’t end with other men. When any limits on authenticity in communication are set with one group, those same limits can extend to our interaction with other genders and people of other ages. Those most impacted by our lack of genuine communication can end up being a spouse and children.

Ask yourself: Who do I open up to when I face real difficulties?

3. Toughness is expected.

Think about all of the phrases you’ve heard related to the idea of being tough over the years.

Be a man. Man up. Take it like a man.

In society, hegemonic masculinity tells us being tough is an essential part of being a man. While being tough is a helpful trait to have in life and one we can’t do without, the way “toughness” often shows up in men with addiction is during their denial of a substance use disorder or refusal to seek and accept help from others. This form of toughness has less to do with “durability” and more to do with “inflexibility” to see the solutions available for them to move through recovery.

Ask yourself: When do I allow myself to rely on others for potential solutions?

4. Breaking rules is excused.

Traditional masculinity gives many men a sense they can break (or bend) rules to suit their wants and needs, and this non-compliance to the rules of others may stem, in part, from a resistance to being accountable to anyone else. Accountability to others may be interpreted as a loss of power and a decrease in “masculinity.” In response, others around them may pacify them by excusing rule-breaking to avoid creating conflict.

Rules in treatment are purposeful and non-negotiable, and for men who are accustomed to finding loopholes or breaking rules in life, this can be a significant barrier. They may see treatment services as something imposed on them rather than a solution integrated with their needs for recovery. The inability to understand treatment as a collaborative experience may prevent some men from considering it as a viable option.

Ask yourself: What rules/laws have I gotten away with breaking regarding my alcohol/drug use?

5. Exhibiting “non-masculinity” is ridiculed.

Traditional masculinity defines manhood in specific terms, and men exhibiting “non-masculine” traits, historically, have been subjected to ridicule in the form of racist and sexist language. Some of the traits contrasting the ones we mentioned above, including setting limits, being open, accepting help, and following rules, may be considered unacceptable by many men. If the choice to seek and start treatment is seen in a similar way, a man living with alcohol or drug abuse—and following the approach of hegemonic masculinity—may resist even talking about inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment programs.

Ask yourself: What insults have I heard others use when men aren’t acting traditionally masculine?



Origins Recovery Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 866-875-1558.

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