Background: Environmental stimuli associated with drug taking have been known to elicit drug craving and increase the likelihood of relapse, and sex differences have been observed in the development of drug addiction and relapse to drug taking. Differential cue paradigms (drug-related imagery scripts and drug-related paraphernalia) have been used to investigate cue-induced drug craving. However, there is little research on the possible gender differences in responses to drug cues in heroin-dependent individuals. This study examined whether two different stimuli, drug-related imagery scripts and drug-related paraphernalia, produce similar or different patterns of cue reactivity in heroin-dependent men and women.
Methods: In the laboratory sessions, 26 male and 23 female heroin-dependent subjects were exposed to script-guided imagery of heroin-related cue situations and to heroin-related paraphernalia (e.g., needles, syringes, spoons, cigarette filters, and aluminum foil). Heroin craving, subjective anxiety, emotion state ratings, and cardiovascular changes were assessed.
Results: Significant increases in heroin craving were seen with drug-imagery scripts or drug paraphernalia but not with neutral-relaxing imagery or neutral-item handling. In addition, drug imagery and paraphernalia produced significant increases in subjective anxiety, negative emotions, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate, as well as decreases in positive emotion. Paraphernalia exposure was somewhat more effective than imagery scripts in inducing heroin craving, primarily reflecting a lower response to imagery scripts among men. Most other dependent measures also differed by gender, and each gender difference occurred with imagery scripts only or with paraphernalia only.
Conclusions: The present results indicate that heroin-imagery scripts and heroin paraphernalia each induce heroin craving and emotional and cardiovascular changes, but that the changes show a complex pattern of gender differences that may need to be taken into account in future laboratory studies.