Females are more vulnerable to drug abuse than males: evidence from preclinical studies and the role of ovarian hormones

Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2011;8:73-96. doi: 10.1007/7854_2010_93.


Human and animal research indicates the presence of sex differences in drug abuse. These data suggest that females, compared to males, are more vulnerable to key phases of the addiction process that mark transitions in drug use such as initiation, drug bingeing, and relapse. Recent data indicate that the female gonadal hormone estrogen may facilitate drug abuse in women. For example, phases of the menstrual cycle when estrogen levels are high are associated with enhanced positive subjective measures following cocaine and amphetamine administration in women. Furthermore, in animal research, the administration of estrogen increases drug taking and facilitates the acquisition, escalation, and reinstatement of cocaine-seeking behavior. Neurobiological data suggest that estrogen may facilitate drug taking by interacting with reward- and stress-related systems. This chapter discusses sex differences in and hormonal effects on drug-seeking behaviors in animal models of drug abuse. The neurobiological basis of these differences and effects are also discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior / drug effects
  • Estrous Cycle / physiology
  • Female
  • Gonadal Hormones / metabolism*
  • Gonadal Hormones / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / drug effects
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Male
  • Menstrual Cycle / physiology
  • Menstrual Cycle / psychology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / drug effects
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*


  • Gonadal Hormones
  • Dopamine