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Women Are More Likely to Get Hooked on Cocaine—But Why?

Women are generally more vulnerable to cocaine addiction than men, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications. They’re also more likely to use cocaine at an earlier age, take drugs in larger quantities, and have greater difficulty staying sober, and they are at increased risk of relapse.

But why? Well, the reason seems to come down to biology.

A Look at the Biology

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have found that hormonal fluctuations in a woman’s menstrual cycle—specifically during the high-estrogen phase—greatly intensify the brain’s dopamine reward pathway, enabling the woman to experience an increase in pleasure.

To arrive at this conclusion, Dr. Erin Calipari, the study’s lead author, used male and female mice—they have the same brain organization and dopamine system as humans—to observe how cocaine use affects the brain’s reward pathway.

What her team found was that the increased estrogen levels in females affected not only the quantity of dopamine released to their brains in response to the cocaine, but also how long the dopamine stayed active in their brain cells. As a result, the pleasurable “high” that cocaine produced was stronger and lasted longer, leading the female mice to associate the drug with greater enjoyment and therefore making them more likely to get hooked.

Should We Adjust Our Cocaine Rehab Treatment Methods?

“Our study will change the way we think about addiction research to emphasize the need to further understand female subjects, as most research on addiction has been conducted in male subjects,” Calipari said in a statement.

This, in turn, will affect treatment methods, since what could work for males might not be as effective for females.

“We need to consider sex as a variable when talking about addiction treatments, and we need to have more specialized treatment for drug abusers because the mechanisms that are driving the addiction are likely different,” she added.

Calipari is now expanding her current research to determine whether birth control pills can help female substance abusers, since these medications can help stabilize the fluctuations experienced through the female hormonal cycle. According to her, women have estrogen spikes about 10 days out of the month.

“The question now is about the underlying problem here,” she said. “Is it the fact that estrogens are there or not, or is it the fact that they’re fluctuating in this cyclical pattern? If the latter is the problem, we can start to do hormonal replacement therapy and see if that helps.”

How to Find Help for Cocaine Misuse

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to cocaine, help is available and recovery is possible. Professional cocaine addiction treatment programs can start those battling cocaine use disorders on the path to healthier and happier lives. For helpful advice, information, or admissions, please contact a caring American Addiction Centers (AAC) representative free at . You can also check your insurance coverage using the form below or contact free cocaine hotline numbers.

Cocaine Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

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