Sexual dimorphism in the neural impact of stress and alcohol

Alcohol. 2018 Nov;72:49-59. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2018.02.002. Epub 2018 Feb 23.


Alcohol use disorder is a widespread mental illness characterized by periods of abstinence followed by recidivism, and stress is the primary trigger of relapse. Despite the higher prevalence of alcohol use disorder in males, the relationship between stress and behavioral features of relapse, such as craving, is stronger in females. Given the greater susceptibility of females to stress-related psychiatric disorders, understanding sexual dimorphism in the relationship between stress and alcohol use is essential to identifying better treatments for both male and female alcoholics. This review addresses sex differences in the impact of stressors on alcohol drinking and seeking in rodents and humans. As these behavioral differences in alcohol use and relapse originate from sexual dimorphism in neuronal function, the impact of stressors and alcohol, and their interaction, on molecular adaptations and neural activity in males and females will also be discussed. Together, the data reviewed herein, arising from a symposium titled "Sex matters in stress-alcohol interactions" presented at the Fourth Volterra Conference on Stress and Alcohol, will highlight the importance of identifying sex differences to improve treatments for comorbid stress and alcohol use disorder in both sexes.

Keywords: Alcohol; Corticosterone; Ethanol; Noradrenaline; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Corticosterone / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / metabolism
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*


  • Corticosterone
  • Hydrocortisone