Sex steroid hormones, stress response, and drug craving in cocaine-dependent women: implications for relapse susceptibility

Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2007 Oct;15(5):445-52. doi: 10.1037/1064-1297.15.5.445.


Cocaine dependence is associated with an enhanced sensitivity to stress and drug craving. Increases in stress-induced craving and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal reactivity are also predictive of cocaine relapse outcomes. More important, sex differences in these responses have also been reported. To further understand the basis of the sex differences, the authors examined the influence of sex steroid hormones on subjective and physiological stress responses and drug craving in cocaine-dependent women. Women who had low progesterone levels (n=5) were compared with those with high progesterone levels (n=5) and with those with moderate levels of estradiol and progesterone (n=9) in their responses during exposure to stress, cocaine cues, and neutral imagery conditions. The high progesterone group showed significantly lower stress-induced and drug cue-induced cocaine craving ( p<.05) and reduced drug cue-induced anxiety levels ( p<.08) and lower drug cue-induced systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels compared with the low progesterone group. These data suggest that there are significant effects of sex steroid hormones on stress and drug cue-induced cocaine craving, anxiety, and cardiovascular responses. In particular, high progesterone during the midluteal phase of the cycle was associated with decreased stress-induced and drug cue-induced craving and decreased cue-induced anxiety and blood pressure responses. These findings are consistent with previous preclinical and clinical studies of progesterone's effects on the behavioral responses to cocaine and warrant further research to examine the effects of progesterone on stress-induced cocaine craving, stress arousal, and cocaine relapse susceptibility in women.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Pressure
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Cues
  • Estradiol / blood
  • Estrogens / blood
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / blood*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System
  • Luteal Phase
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System
  • Progesterone / blood
  • Recurrence
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Estrogens
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol