New information may shed light on how best to help women break free of their cocaine addictions, while also highlighting the fact that treatment centers may need to develop different approaches to men and women. Traditionally, men and women enrolled in treatment programs have received pretty much the same treatment. They are detoxed the same, they go to the same groups and receive the same type of counseling. However, studies like this one may help to improve treatment in ways that makes it more successful for men and women by addressing more gender-specific needs.
“Our study will change the way we think about addiction research to emphasize the need to further understand female subjects, as most research on addiction has been conducted in male subjects,” explained co-author of the study, Erin Calipari, PhD. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that the natural hormonal changes a woman goes through make her more susceptible to cocaine addiction than men. This is specifically true when a woman is going through her menstrual cycle.
The estrogen levels in a women’s body cause the brain to increase its dopamine reward system. This means that women get a bigger rush from drugs like cocaine during this time. This discovery has helped scientists understand why women are more likely than men to become addicted to cocaine.
With this kind of information, researchers are now hopeful that better intervention plans can be devised to prevent women from developing strong, and potentially lethal, addictions to cocaine. One possible solution would be to regulate these hormonal shifts with specialized birth control, however there are no plans yet to use this as a treatment for cocaine addiction.
“Our findings underscore the unique insight into normal brain function and disease pathology that results from studying both sexes,” said Dr. Eric Nestler, MD, PhD, the principal author of the study. “This approach is essential to enable the field to develop optimized treatments for drug addiction and other conditions for women as well as men.”