The Men's Health Addiction & Recovery Survey

Men's Health Editorial
·4 min read
The Men's Health Addiction & Recovery Survey

THE MEDITATION TEACHER teacher Joseph Goldstein once wrote, "If we’re facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking." It's an idea that's helpful for understanding the journey that is recovering from addiction. This journey is rarely a straight path, and it's a road rarely walked alone. And while recovery is a lifelong journey, the hopeful destination is sobriety and inner peace.

When we set out to understand the state of addiction and recovery as the world navigates a deadly pandemic that has made social connection and self-control exceedingly difficult, we not only wanted to tell the stories of 13 people who are traveling their own roads to recovery, but also reach out to better understand the bigger picture when it comes to people's attitudes and perspectives regarding addiction.

The insights we gained from polling 1,111 Americans through SurveyMonkey in December 2020 helped gives us a better sense of where the country is at in terms of mental health and a range of addictions, from alcohol and drugs to gambling and sex.

Here are some of the highlights from our findings, as well as some actionable advice from experts:

► 65% of survey respondents identified with at least one of these mental-health challenges: depression (58%), anxiety (66%), PTSD (24%). Having any of these conditions increases your risk for addictive behaviors, which may increase your risk of developing these conditions.

69% of male respondents said they considered alcohol to be addictive, 63% said the same about gambling, and 59% did about recreational drugs. Though “workaholic” has entered the vernacular, most people didn’t consider work to be addictive (28% overall).

71% of Americans viewed gambling as morally acceptable in 2020, the highest level of acceptance since Gallup started asking the question in 2003. In our survey, 11% of men reported gambling more during the pandemic.

75% of respondents are close to someone who struggles with addiction, with extended family members accounting for 44% and close friends accounting for 40%.

7% of people surveyed wished someone would intervene in their addictive behaviors. If no one does, try Community Reinforcement Approach and Family Training. “It’s using relationships for good,” says Ken Duckworth, M.D., chief medical officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It’s designed for people who love you.”

37% of respondents have tried at least one type of treatment. The most common: individualized counseling (15%). Mental-health services are not on pause during the pandemic, from online counseling to virtual 12-step meetings. In fact, “some people would say that AA on Zoom is better because you can actually see one person at a time and you’re not as distracted,” Dr. Duckworth says.

Wait, Do I Have a Problem?

EXPERTS POINT toward these five common signs that indicate whether you should seek help.

Craving

Addiction hijacks your desires. Do you fixate on experiencing the effects of a substance or behavior? Does your behavior change if something keeps you from using?

Compulsion

Addiction is overpowering. Are you obsessively thinking about a substance or behavior, making it hard to do or think about anything else?

Loss of control

Addiction lowers the bar in terms of holding yourself accountable. Are you setting rules or limits for your behavior, only to consistently fall short?

Continued use despite consequences

Addiction often causes you to struggle at work and in your relationships. Are you making excuses or explaining away those struggles?

Chronic negative behavior

Addiction monopolizes your time. Are you leaving work early to meet up with a dealer or skipping your kid’s soccer game because you’re hungover?

Many of these issues go hand in hand. If you’re experiencing one or two regularly, it’s likely the other C’s will follow. Externalize the issue in order to better confront it, says Ximena Sanchez-Samper, M.D., a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction: “I have this. I can recruit other people to help me with this.” Shame and guilt won’t work—honesty and support will.

A version of this story appears in the May 2021 issue of Men's Health.

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