Addictive Behaviors

The Addictive Behaviors Research Core of Women's Health Research at Yale studies several types of addictive behaviors relevant to women. These include smoking and nicotine dependence, overeating, gambling, drinking and other substance abuse.

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

Current Research Core Projects

Current Core activities include the analyses of data on various substance and behavioral addictions, and both clinical and non-clinical research studies. An important feature of the research conducted in this Core is the interdisciplinary and translational nature of the work. The Core also benefits from collaborations with other Research Cores and research groups both at Yale and beyond.

Current projects include examining:

  • How mother-child interactions might influence the propensity or risk for developing addictions
  • Gender-related differences in genetic contributions to adolescent risk-taking
  • Brain activation responses to food cues and stress and their relationships to obesity and metabolic factors in women compared to men
  • Sex-specific brain white matter integrity in prenatally drug-exposed youth
  • Responses to addiction-related cues by gender in those with gambling and/or drug use problems
  • Stress and drug-cue responsiveness in women and men with cocaine dependence

Recent Research Core Findings

Our Addictive Behaviors Core is examining gender-related questions in a number of addictive behaviors, including smoking, overeating and gambling, as well as alcohol and other substance use. The key questions being investigated include:

  • How do girls and women develop problems with addictive behaviors?
  • How do these behaviors present themselves in women?

We have shown that:

  • Women and girls exposed to addictive behaviors, as compared to men and boys, develop addiction-related problems more rapidly - described as a "telescoping" phenomenon
  • Gender-specific success in smoking “quit attempts” is affected by the type of smoking cessation intervention and by the phase of the menstrual cycle in which a quit attempt occurs
  • Addictive behaviors, including gambling, are more closely related to mood disorders in girls and women as compared to boys and men
  • Video gaming is associated with aggressive behaviors in girls but not boys
  • Women and men have different expectations related to alcohol consumption, with women reporting different social and sexual outcomes from drinking
  • Women as compared to men who are children of individuals with alcoholism appear at greater risk for psychiatric disorders in adulthood
  • Girls and boys involved in extracurricular activities were less likely to smoke marijuana, and this protective effect was stronger in girls
  • Cocaine-dependent women show greater brain activations to stress cues while cocaine-dependent men show greater activations to drug cues, suggesting different interventions might be helpful for women and men.