Sex differences in drug addiction: a review of animal and human studies

Womens Health (Lond). 2008 Jan;4:51-65. doi: 10.2217/17455057.4.1.51.


Addiction research has historically neglected research on women, and most studies have been conducted on men only, with the concluding results generalized to the female population. The role of sex differences in vulnerability to drug abuse, their repercussions on prevention and treatment strategies all require detailed studies, as does the progression from recreational drug use to dependence. This review synthesizes evidence of gender differences in drug addiction, with particular emphasis on women's health and implications. We first reviewed behavioral studies showing sex differences in the preference for and self-administration of licit (i.e., alcohol and nicotine) and illicit (i.e., cocaine, amphetamine, heroin and cannabis) substances as revealed by animal models of addiction. Clinical studies demonstrating differences between men and women in craving, drug use, abstinence and relapse will then be examined. For both animal and human studies, the effects of hormones and estrous/menstrual cycle will be reviewed. Finally, neurobiological factors underlying gender differences in vulnerability to drug addiction (i.e., brain morphology and neurotransmission) and need for gender-specific detoxification treatments will be discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Estrous Cycle / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Menstrual Cycle / physiology
  • Menstrual Cycle / psychology
  • Recurrence
  • Sex Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / etiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / physiopathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / prevention & control
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / psychology