AddictionDrug UseCocaine How Cocaine Affects the Female Brain Differently Gender-Specific Treatment Strategies May HelpByBuddy TBuddy TFacebookTwitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial processUpdated on July 12, 2020Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Huma Sheikh, MDMedically reviewed byHuma Sheikh, MDFacebookLinkedInTwitterHuma Sheikh, MD, is a board-certified neurologist, specializing in migraine and stroke, and affiliated with Mount Sinai of New York.Learn about our Medical Review Boardhiphunter/Getty Images Women make up about one-third of all cocaine users in the United States and they may differ from male cocaine abusers in several ways. Research shows that cocaine-dependent women seek drug rehabilitation for different reasons than men, they respond to treatment differently and their brains react differently to a craving for cocaine. Using PET (positron emission tomography) scan technology, Emory University School of Medicine scientists found that cocaine-dependent women experience reactions in the brain that are different from men. Cerebral blood flow, which shows neural activity in the brain, changes differently for women addicted to cocaine than for cocaine-dependent men, the study found. For these reasons, the researchers believe that gender-specific treatment strategies for cocaine abuse may be more effective. Drug Craving and Brain Regions Dr. Clinton Kilts and his colleagues examined blood flow related to drug craving in the brains of eight abstinent, cocaine-craving women and compared those results to samples from eight matched cocaine-craving men. 6 Ways to Curb Your Drug Cravings and Avoid Relapse The researchers used a one-minute narration describing past cocaine use to provoke cocaine craving in the study's participants. The researchers made PET images of the participants' brains as they listened to the drug-using stories and when they heard drug-neutral stories. Emotions and Cognition Affected Differently in Females According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "The researchers found that cue-induced craving was associated with greater activation of the central sulcus and frontal cortex in women, and less activation of the amygdala, insula, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral cingulated cortex. Both men and women demonstrated activation of the right nucleus accumbens. Perhaps most notable was the neural activity measured in the amygdalas of study subjects; the women experienced a marked decrease in activity, in contrast to the increase observed in men," the report said. Amygdalas:plays a role in your ability to control sexual behavior and feel certain emotions, including fearInsula: plays a role in interoception (interpreting physical signals), decision-making, anxiety, pain perception, cognition, mood, threat recognition, and conscious urgesOrbitofrontal cortex:plays a role in choice and decision-makingVentral cingulated cortex: plays a role in empathy, impulse control, emotion, and decision-making Limitations of Study The Emory researchers noted that their study had limitations which included small sample size and the inclusion of the participants of two female subjects who were not currently in drug treatment programs. Although the investigators admitted that conclusions related to possible gender differences cue-induced drug craving associated with cocaine dependence should be considered as highly preliminary, they think the differences detected in the study may support the need to develop gender-specific strategies to treat drug abuse. Metabolic and Absorption Differences Other studies have found biological differences in how cocaine is absorbed and metabolized by men and women, and therefore affects men and women differently. One study found that the gender differences in cocaine's effects were due to a combination of metabolic differences and the greater physical barrier to cocaine absorption created by increased mucus in the nasal passages caused by menstrual hormonal changes. That study also suggested that treatment strategies for cocaine abuse should be different for women and men. Learn About Women Seeking Recovery from Addiction 3 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.Kilts CD, Gross RE, Ely TD, Drexler KP. The neural correlates of cue-induced craving in cocaine-dependent women. Am J Psychiatry. 2004;161(2):233-41. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.161.2.233“NewsScan for July 19, 2004 - Research News.” NIDA Archives, July 19, 2004. https://archives.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2004/07/newsscan-july-19-2004-research-news.Lukas SE, Sholar M, Lundahl LH, et al. Sex differences in plasma cocaine levels and subjective effects after acute cocaine administration in human volunteers. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1996;125(4):346-54. doie:10.1007/bf02246017 Additional ReadingNational Institute on Drug Abuse. "Cocaine Affects Men and Women Differently." NIDA Notes January 1999By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. See Our Editorial ProcessMeet Our Review Board Share FeedbackWas this page helpful?Thanks for your feedback!What is your feedback? 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