The gender gap in substance use disorders (SUDs), characterized by greater prevalence in men, is narrowing, highlighting the importance of understanding sex and gender differences in SUD etiology and maintenance. In this critical review, we provide an overview of sex/gender differences in the biology, epidemiology and treatment of SUDs. Biological sex differences are evident across an array of systems, including brain structure and function, endocrine function, and metabolic function. Gender (i.e., environmentally and socioculturally defined roles for men and women) also contributes to the initiation and course of substance use and SUDs. Adverse medical, psychiatric, and functional consequences associated with SUDs are often more severe in women. However, men and women do not substantively differ with respect to SUD treatment outcomes. Although several trends are beginning to emerge in the literature, findings on sex and gender differences in SUDs are complicated by the interacting contributions of biological and environmental factors. Future research is needed to further elucidate sex and gender differences, especially focusing on hormonal factors in SUD course and treatment outcomes; research translating findings between animal and human models; and gender differences in understudied populations, such as those with co-occurring psychiatric disorders and gender-specific populations, such as pregnant women.
Keywords: Female; Gender differences; Risk factors; Substance use disorders; Treatment outcomes; Women.
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