Get help today 888-744-0069 or sign up for 24/7 text support.
American Addiction Centers National Rehabs Directory

Addiction and Your Hormones: Pointing the Finger at Estrogen

Could a hormone imbalance be to blame for your chemical dependency? The answer might surprise you.

If you’re a woman, chances are you’re familiar with the effects of a fluctuating estrogen level. Symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, and depression are pretty common. But if you suffer from an actual hormonal imbalance, your overall health isn’t the only thing impacted. Your motivation, energy, and stress levels take a hit, too.

What’s worse, all the health issues mentioned above are known to be contributing factors in substance abuse and relapse.

Estrogen’s Link to Substance Abuse

Multiple studies found an important connection between estrogen and the progression of substance abuse. One recent study conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai demonstrated that higher estrogen levels can make women more vulnerable to the effects of certain drugs.

Researchers found that estrogen intensifies the brain’s dopamine reward pathway, which creates an increase in pleasureable feelings. So, when a woman is in the high-estrogen phase of her menstrual cycle and she takes a certain drug – think meth or cocaine – she feels more enjoyment.

Those increased feelings of pleasure often lead women to associate the high with greater enjoyment.

To counter these fluctuations, the researchers suggested birth control pills be implemented as a possible addiction intervention.

Progesterone Lowers Drug Seeking Behaviors

Progesterone plays a part in preparing the body for pregnancy while regulating the monthly menstrual cycle. Like estrogen, it’s relationship with substance abuse has been researched.

According to studies, when progesterone levels fall, estrogen becomes the dominant hormone, making women more susceptible to the effects of drugs. But researchers also note that when people struggling with chemical dependency are given progesterone, the hormone plays a therapeutic role in curtailing smoking and cocaine use.

Unlike estrogen, progesterone reduces a drug’s rewarding effects and lowers the motivation for seeking out such substances.

Get Your Levels Checked

As you can see, hormones could be more responsible for your progression towards substance abuse than you might have realized. The good news, however, is that most imbalances are treatable.

If you find yourself frequently relapsing, lacking the energy or motivation to complete your treatment program, or feeling stressed out at the thought of long-term sobriety, get your levels checked. Taking your hormones into account from the very beginning could improve your chances of getting (and staying) clean and sober.

Image Source: iStock

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.