Addiction is an incapacitating neuropsychiatric disorder wherein a person gravitates toward high levels of drug use, prioritizes drug-seeking behavior over other activities, and repeatedly vacillates between abstinence and relapse. The problem of addiction can occur in anybody irrespective of factors like age, social status, religion, type of personality, etc.
However, gender differences may play a crucial role in fastening the development of addiction. Compared to men, women have been found to be more vulnerable to drug addiction, especially cocaine. Since cocaine has the potential to trigger extra energy and alertness, it is being widely used by women to complete work by staying awake. Moreover, it has become an easy way to escape from emotional or mental health problems.
In the past, most clinical research on addiction or other areas of interest were male-dominated. Clinicians and scientists of yesteryears avoided including female subjects in studies because of the belief that their hormonal cycle was too much of a variable to attain conclusive results. Due to the above reason, the inclusion of women participants becomes a major barrier to understand the way the development of addiction subtly differs due to biological changes.
The inclusion of women in clinical trials is somewhat a new development. However, it has led to the development of better medicine, improved intervention approaches, and enhanced understanding of how an addiction progresses among men and women. This progressive shift in the approach of studies has led to a better understanding of the nuances of addiction.
One of such studies discussed below highlights the key reasons behind the rise in the popularity of cocaine among women. This sex-specific study on cocaine reward published in the journal Nature Communications explains the facts and figures related to this problem in detail.
Hormonal activities affect addiction in women
The study, conducted by the researchers from Mount Sinai Hospital and led by Dr. Erin Calipari, found that hormonal fluctuations explain the development of an addiction among women who use cocaine at the rates faster than men. The study also highlights that women are likely to start using cocaine at an earlier age and in greater amounts than men. Lastly, the study shows that women are more likely to have difficulty in avoiding cocaine than men.
The researchers used mice to explain the difference in the expression of cocaine use between men and women. Since both dopamine pathways and drug responses in mice are similar to that of humans, these mice were analyzed throughout the different stages of their main reproductive cycles.
The researchers found that menstrual cycles in mice can significantly affect the impact of cocaine. When the hormone levels of female mice are low, they tend to mimic male mice. However, if the estrogen levels are high in female mice, they witness a marked increase in the rewarding effects of cocaine.
The female mice on cocaine not only demonstrated that dopamine activities are affected but also displayed that these activities lingered in the female brains than male. The study also found that environment plays a significant role that differed between male and female mice. The researchers highlighted that female mice are more likely to prefer places closely associated with the source of cocaine, which is not so prominent among male mice.
What does it mean?
The findings of the study explain humans also exhibit specific environments to complement their drug experience. It also highlights that environmental cues act as a strong trigger in the relapse process. As female subjects were found to respond to environmental cues and displayed preference for places that administered cocaine more than men, treatment providers could use this information to great effect while catering to male and female patients.
For instance, a pharmacological intervention that works for one gender may not always ensure the same results for the other genders. Similarly, it is also important to tackle the issue of environmental triggers that are one of the major contributors to relapse. In addition, treatment providers have to take into account the cyclic pattern of hormonal changes in women and how monthly fluctuations of hormones can affect the efficacy of certain treatment models.
The study, however, has its own limitations. The female subjects taken in the study experienced unstable hormonal activities at the time of the study that impacted the range of the findings. Since the study prioritized cocaine use with respect to estrogen in women, there is a need to conduct further study to comprehend if there are other factors that dictate responses to cocaine than just estrogen levels.
Path to recovery
Cocaine addiction is a serious drug crisis among both men and women across the nation. However, the risk of witnessing adverse health complications is greater for women. With the widening of the gap in terms of cocaine use between women and men, it becomes essential to identify the risk factors. It is also crucial to ensure adequate treatment to ensure early recovery.