Why Are So Many Men Dying of Overdose?

November 23, 2018. Article by: Government of B.C.

Suck it up. Tough it out. Be a man.

Every guy has heard these words before – and maybe even used them. But how do they really affect the people that hear and say them?  

These words tell men not to ask for help. They force men to bury their emotions. And they could be playing a part in BC’s overdose crisis, in which most of the people dying are men.

How Cultural Expectations Could Put Men at Risk

Over 4,000 British Columbians have died of overdose since the start of 2016. More than 80% of people that died were men, mostly aged between 30-59.

There are no clear reasons why. But Dr. Dan Bilsker, a psychologist affiliated with the University of British Columbia, thinks the problem could have something to do with how men are encouraged to act.

“Our society tends to reinforce men for avoiding seeking help, isolating themselves when they’re distressed, and using alcohol to sooth themselves,” says Dr. Bilsker.

These coping methods increase the risk of problematic substance use for men – which in time could lead to overdose.

The fact that men often work in dangerous jobs with a high risk of injury likely plays a role.

“Serious workplace injuries can lead to complex pain conditions,” Bilsker highlights, “which have often been treated with opioids. When this prescribed medication ends, men with chronic pain or opioid use disorder may turn to street drugs, which are unregulated and unsupervised in their dosage or purity.”

For some men, such problems could be made worse by feeling pressure to “Suck it up” and deal with their challenges on their own. Combine these things together, and it’s clear to see how a fatal overdose could be the conclusion to a history of using alcohol and other substances to cope with stress, or the final point on a difficult path that began with an injury at work.

How Can We Do Better?

It’s important to remember that not all men think and behave in the same way. However, some men share values and behaviours, which can include struggling to express suffering or seek help.

As Dr. Bilsker says, these are the people who could benefit the most from changing our attitudes towards men – which in turn could help turn the tide of the overdose crisis.

Creating accessible tools to help men develop effective coping skills has huge potential to counter the negative effects of cultural attitudes towards men.

Encouraging men to reach out to people around them for support is another way to show them they’re not alone and could lower the impacts and risks of pain conditions and overuse of opioids.

Changing the Conversation

In the Why this Matters video series, players and alumnus from the BC Lions and Vancouver Canucks share these messages of encouragement and support. Their words show men that they don’t need to suffer in isolation, that reaching out for help is brave, and that it's OK to be vulnerable.

They highlight tools and resources for people experiencing addiction and ways to stay safe if you or someone you know uses drugs.

Most importantly, they show that courageous conversations are necessary to create change and save lives, and that everyone can be part of the solution to the overdose crisis. Watch and share the full series: