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Women and Addictive Disorders Core

Dr. Marc Potenza
Photo by Carissa Violante

Historically, addiction research has focused primarily on men. WHRY’s Women and Addictive Behaviors Core explores how gender affects risks for addictive behaviors. And it researches how addictions have different effects on women and men. These behaviors include smoking, drinking, and other substance abuse. It also includes overeating, gambling, sex, and internet use. The goal is to improve prevention, treatment, and public health policies related to addiction. 

Led by Dr. Marc Potenza, the core brings together experts from different fields to explore addiction across the lifespan. The team draws on the latest genetic techniques, brain imaging technology, and cognitive and clinical tests. They are seeking gender-specific medical interventions addressing preventable causes of illness and death.

Practical Findings

The core has published findings on how gender differences exist in problem gambling and substance use disorders involving nicotine, prescription drugs, and alcohol. The core investigates addictions rooted in legal and illegal substances. And it investigates behaviors, including overeating, sexual behaviors, and internet use.

The core has revealed: 

  • Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more strongly associated with binge drinking and hazardous drinking among women as 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. 
  • 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.

Potenza also directs Yale’s Center of Excellence in Gambling Research and was honored in 2016 with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Gambling Research from the National Council on Problem Gambling.

By bringing together researchers of different disciplines, we have created a unique opportunity to uncover the many ways in which men and women and boys and girls differ in regard to specific addictions.

Marc N. Potenza, PhD, MD, Director, Women and Addictive Disorders, Women's Health Research at Yale