Sex Differences in Alcohol Use Disorder

Curr Med Chem. 2017;24(24):2661-2670. doi: 10.2174/0929867323666161202092908.


Background: Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a common and disabling mental disorder associated with a significant burden of medical consequences and high socioeconomic costs. Although a growing number of studies support the existence of sex differences in several aspects of alcohol consumption and AUD, the majority of investigations have been conducted in men.

Objective: This article was aimed at reviewing sex differences in AUD, focusing on epidemiology, neurobiology, pharmacokinetics, susceptibility to medical consequences, and treatment.

Results: Although AUD is more prevalent in men, the number of women with AUD is rapidly increasing, especially in adolescents. Women show a higher vulnerability to medical consequences induced by alcohol consumption, including alcohol-related liver disease, cardiomyopathy, and breast cancer. This observation is only partly explained by the sex differences observed in the pharmacokinetics of alcohol. Women also show an accelerated progression from the first use of alcohol to the onset of AUD and appear to be at higher risk of alcohol- medication interactions. Although AUD women are less likely to seek treatment than men, they achieve better results through dedicated programs taking into account the special needs of female patients. However, findings on the efficacy and safety of medications used to treat AUD mostly come from studies in which women were largely underrepresented.

Conclusion: The sex differences observed suggest the urgent need to conduct studies recruiting adequate numbers of female subjects, to increase knowledge of sex differences in AUD, and to develop personalized and evidence-based approaches of prevention and treatment of AUD in women.

Keywords: Alcohol use disorder; alcohol; alcohol-related consequences; sex differences; treatment; women.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / drug therapy*
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / prevention & control
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Sex Characteristics*