The recent focus on drug abuse in women has brought attention to numerous differences between women and men. In this review, we discuss both preclinical and clinical findings of sex differences in drug abuse as well as mechanisms that may underlie these differences. Recent evidence suggests that the progression to dependence and abuse may differ between women and men; thus, different prevention and treatment strategies may be required. Similar sex differences in drug sensitivity and self-administration have been reported in laboratory animal studies. Females appear to be more vulnerable than males to the reinforcing effects of psychostimulants, opiates, and nicotine during many phases of the addiction process (e.g. acquisition, maintenance, dysregulation-escalation, relapse). Male and female animals differ in their behavioral, neurological, and pharmacological responses to drugs. Although the role of sex in the mechanisms of drug action remains unclear, preclinical and clinical studies indicate that ovarian hormones, particularly estrogen, play a role in producing sex differences in drug abuse. Future research is necessary to provide information on how to design more effective drug abuse treatment programs and resources that are sex specific.