Addictive Behaviors

The Addictive Behaviors Research Core of Women’s Health Research at Yale investigates various types of addictive behaviors with a particular focus on their relevance and effects in women. These behaviors include smoking and nicotine dependence, drinking and other substance abuse, overeating, gambling, sex and Internet use.

Costs of Addiction

These behaviors result in enormous costs to individuals and families, as well as annual costs to the economy totaling hundreds of billions of dollars.


Historically, addiction research has focused primarily on men. However, increasing addictive behaviors in women require that we identify and understand gender-specific risk factors for addictive behaviors, and how addictions affect women and men differently.

Our mission is to use the knowledge gained in our studies to advance prevention, treatment and policy initiatives. To do so, the Core engages in collaborative, interdisciplinary studies across the lifespan, drawing on the latest genetic techniques, brain imaging technology, and cognitive and clinical assessments to develop gender-specific pharmacological interventions addressing preventable causes of illness and death.

Current Research Core Projects

Gambling and drug cue responsiveness in women and men with cocaine dependence, pathological gambling, or neither: Examination of similarities and differences between substance addictions and non-substance addictions, and the gender differences involved. Improved prevention and treatment approaches, and effective policies, will flow from gaining this understanding. 

Gender-related differences in addictive and risk taking behaviors in community samples of adolescents and adults: Data analyses continues from survey of adults and more than 4,000 high school students on behaviors including substance use, gambling, shopping, video game playing, and internet use to understand a broader range of potentially addictive behaviors, and gender differences involved. 

Gender-related differences in genetic contributions to adolescent risk-taking: Collection of data continues, including DNA samples, from a population of more than 500 adolescents – half girls and half boys – to explore sex differences as they relate to genetic factors, stress and risk-taking behaviors. Understanding gender differences and individual differences, as they relate to genetic factors, will lead to improved prevention and treatment strategies for both girls and boys. 

Brain activation responses to food cues and stress and their relationships to obesity and metabolic factors in women compared to men: Analyses of data from both adolescents and adults continues. So far, research shows individual differences in response to stress and favorite food cues, and that some differences relate to clinically relevant factors such as body mass index. Analysis for potential gender differences continues. 

Sex-specific brain white matter integrity in prenatally drug-exposed youth: Investigation continues into the influence of gender and prenatal cocaine exposure on the integrity of white matter – the circuitry in the brain that plays a large role in regulating mood – and their relationship to temperament measures, including impulsivity, and behavioral inhibition and activation.

Recent Research Core Findings

Our Addictive Behaviors Research Core investigates gender-related questions in a number of addictive behaviors, including smoking, alcohol and drug use, overeating, gambling, sex and Internet use. Key questions include: 

How do girls and women develop problems with addictive behaviors? 

How do these behaviors present themselves in women? 

Gender differences exist in the associations between the severity of problem gambling and incident substance use disorders involving nicotine, prescription drugs and alcohol. Specifically, in women, there is a strong association involving nicotine dependence, and no association in men. In men, there are strong associations involving prescription drugs and alcohol, and no associations in women. 

Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were more strongly associated with binge drinking and hazardous drinking among women compared with men. 

Girls and boys involved in extracurricular activities were less likely to smoke marijuana, and this protective effect was stronger in girls. 

Women and men have different expectations related to alcohol consumption, with women reporting different social and sexual outcomes from drinking.