Are Women More Affected Than Men By Cocaine and Meth Addiction?

By May Wilkerson 07/17/15

Researchers still don’t know exactly why the difference exists.

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Stimulants, like cocaine and meth, may have a greater impact on women’s brains than men’s, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at brain scans from both men and women who were previously addicted to stimulants. They found that the women’s brains had a smaller amount of brain tissue known as “gray matter,” whereas the men’s brains showed little to no changes.

"Gray matter is important because it is where signals are generated in the brain that gives us the ability to think, move and behave," said study author Dr. Jody Tanabe, a professor of radiology from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, Colo.

Researchers still don’t know exactly why these changes are occurring. "Since the brain consists of numerous cells and the spaces between cells, we do not know if some of the cells die, become smaller, or if the spaces between the cells become smaller," said Tanabe.

Though the findings don’t prove cause-and-effect, they do seem to suggest that women could pay a greater toll for stimulant addiction in the long term. Both the men and the women in the study had similar histories in terms of which drugs they used, length of exposure, and how long they had been abstinent.

Overall, the men actually exhibited more drug-related symptoms than the women, said Tanabe. However, it’s possible that behavioral or personality differences among the women influenced the results.

Vaughan Rees, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard School of Medicine, said scientists have long wondered if there are distinct differences between the nervous systems of men and women with addiction.

"These findings may help to shed light on the greater severity of drug-use symptoms experienced by females, including escalation of drug use, larger quantities used and greater difficulty quitting compared with males," she said.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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