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Alcoholism and Toxic Masculinity: Why Men Are Driven To Drink

Through the years, so much of what is perceived to be manliness is derived from popular culture. Rugged, stoic, assertive, confident, sometimes even aggressive, and of course hard drinking: these are the attributes of a real man, a man’s man. But are they really?

No matter if you grew up in the era of Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra, Winston Churchill, Peter O’Toole, Keith Moon, or Don Draper, chances are some of your male role models extolled the virtues of drinking. Many of them also likely ended up in some alcohol rehabilitation facility as a result.


A History of Dudes and Booze

Who knows how far back the mythology of men and drinking goes? There’s no denying that virility and masculinity are completely woven with alcohol consumption in popular culture. If you’re skeptical, consider the phrase “drink this – it’ll put hair on your chest.” Drinking as a man refers to someone who can consume a great deal of alcohol, whereas drinking like a girl refers to someone who can’t hold their liquor.

Here are just a few examples in popular culture that suggest that men must consume alcohol to be manly.

Rat Pack: Comprised of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop, the Rat Pack was the epitome of cool in the late 50s and 60s. Although it was part of the act and they were never inebriated on stage, according to Bishop, members of the Rat Pack were often seen drinking copious amounts of alcohol on stage and having a great time. Other famous performers that made drinking look good: Keith Moon, Richard Burton, Humphrey Bogart, and Guns N’ Roses.

Animal House: A film about many fraternity brothers who get drunk, get in trouble, drink some more, and hilarity ensues. Other films and TV shows that celebrate guys getting drunk include The World’s End, Two & A Half Men, The Hangover

Ernest Hemingway: The American novelist whose adventures and hard drink set the stereotype of what it meant to be a man in the 20th century. More famous authors admire their drinking almost as much as for their works: Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Hunter S. Thompson.

Vincent Van Gogh: The world-famous artist created some of the most recognized and famous pieces of art while drinking absinthe on an empty stomach.

What Is Toxic Masculinity?

Toxic masculinity is the concept that traditional norms of how men should behave are damaging to men, women, and society. In addition to alcohol abuse, toxic masculinity includes violent tendencies, homophobia, misogyny, and greed.

To be sure, the social constructs that dictate what it means to be a woman (beautiful, thin, maternal, and simultaneously a prude and a tramp) are equally poisonous; toxic masculinity is more damaging merely by the death toll associated with its manifestations. The World Health Organization has even gone as far as recognizing that the average shorter life expectancy of men may be related to how society has defined what masculinity is and the behaviors that go along with it.

How Toxic Masculinity Is Developed

In many cases, it begins during infancy. Studies have shown that the damaging process of masculinization can begin with parents projecting innate manly traits upon their children without realizing it, thereby reducing their need for comfort, attention, and affection. You may be wondering how that could happen. Researchers showed the same video of a baby crying to different groups with different information about the baby. The groups who were told that the baby was female deemed that the baby was frightened, while those who were told the baby was male described it as angry.

Logically, then, it would be reasonable to assume the parent who interprets a baby’s crying to be an expression of fear is more likely to comfort and cuddle it than if it is perceived as an expression of anger.

This form of masculinization continues throughout childhood and adolescence. Studies have shown that parents teach their sons to control their emotions and emphasize competition and achievement. The underlying message is that the emotional needs of boys are less important and should be ignored.

So, from an early age, boys are taught to cut themselves off from their emotions. They learn to be competitive, to repress vulnerable feelings, and to rely on their intelligence. If they don’t follow those rules, they run the risk of being teased and ridiculed.


The Expression of Toxic Masculinity

Being obligated to repress emotions and deny what a significant portion of the human experience is can result in trauma in men. Many believe that trauma such as this frequently results in depression that goes undiagnosed and untreated. The harmful behaviors frequently exhibited by men are just a way to mask that depression. Those behaviors include workaholism, violence, and self-medication through the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Toxic Masculinity may also show up in those that suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

The Relationship Between Alcohol and Toxic Masculinity

We’ve already covered how society values alcohol consumption as a sign of manliness. Alcohol abuse can also be a way for men to cope with their own emotional disconnection. Research has shown that men turn to alcohol more frequently to help them deal with difficult emotional situations. In time, they can develop a dependency and require inpatient alcohol rehab.

Men are also less likely to seek outside assistance during difficult times. It’s not surprising, then, that the suicide rate is roughly 4 times greater among men than in women.

Alcohol is a particularly nefarious danger because it is so readily available and has become not only a socially acceptable tool for managing one’s emotions, it’s de rigueur. It’s only under the influence of alcohol that it is seen as okay for a man to be vulnerable and express emotions.

Read more about the benefits of giving up alcohol and what the timeline for alcohol recovery looks like.

Alcohol abuse also greatly increases the risk of suicide. Some studies have suggested that a single session of drinking heavily can reduce inhibitions and makes it more likely that a person might act on suicidal thoughts. Alcohol is widely known to worsen depression, and habitual drinkers are more likely to exhibit impulsive behavior.

How Inpatient Alcohol Rehab Can Help

It’s clear that if we, as a society, want to reduce the alcoholism rate among men, not to mention violence against women, acts of aggression, and other destructive behaviors, we need to make some efforts to change how we define what it means to be a man. We need to detoxify masculinity, and this can only be achieved through education. We need to become more aware that vulnerability and emotions are natural human traits and not gender-specific.

On a more individual basis, however, inpatient alcohol rehab treatment is a great way to address those self-destructive behaviors and counter the effects of society’s messages that define masculinity. Through therapy, men can get the support they need to work through their emotional blockages that dictate harmful and damaging behaviors. It’s a proven method to break free from the cycles of alcohol abuse and addiction. Learn more about Beachway Therapy Center’s program today.