Understanding Sex Differences in Motivation and Control with Regard to Drug Use
Jane R. Taylor, Ph.D.,Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Emerging findings suggest that women, compared to men, have increased sensitivity to the behavioral effects of stimulants, including cocaine and nicotine. Despite drug use being more prevalent in men, women become more rapidly dependent on these substances and are more likely to have predisposing psychiatric disorders, such as depression. However, the reasons for these gender differences are not fully understood. Against this backdrop, Dr. Taylor studied whether female animals are more likely than male animals to relapse to drug use after being stressed or being exposed to drugs of abuse.
Highlighted Study Findings
In her study, Dr. Taylor investigated how motivational processes in female animals are affected by stress and by psychomotor stimulants. She also examined sex differences in impulsiveness and cognition using animal models of attention. She found that both "stressed" female rats and those having received drugs of abuse (such as cocaine, amphetamine or nicotine) are more sensitive to cues associated with "rewards" for behavior. These findings suggest that females may be more prone to relapse to drug use when provoked by stress or re-exposure to drugs than males because they are seeking the “rewarding" properties of drugs. Interestingly, female rats showed reduced impulsivity in tests of sustained and divided attention compared with male rats, effects that are important for normal cognitive performance. These findings are consistent with the high incidence of attention loss in disorders such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is more prevalent in males compared with females. The results also suggested that estrogen may protect aspects of cognitive function. These data are important steps toward creating a basis for developing novel gender-based pharmacological and behavioral treatment strategies for drug addiction, as well as for hormonal treatment as part of therapy.