Does Your Sex Predict How Prone You Are To Addiction?
Last November, a review published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research discussed the role that sex and gender may play in an individual’s propensity for addiction. But additional evidence suggests that many factors – not just sex – may converge to determine how prone someone is to addiction.
In the past, addiction was considered to be a mostly male problem. This fallacy led to limited research and data on addiction issues in women. But in recent years, researchers have made efforts to make up for this disparity in information.
Previous research has demonstrated that the sex of an individual may have an effect on substance use. For example, women tend to move beyond first-time use of a substance to a full-on addiction in a shorter amount of time than men.
The study from November posited that this effect may originate in neurology. That is, when the pattern of dopamine activation moves from location in the brain (the nucleus accumbens) to the other (the striatum) behavior then transforms from casual substance use to addiction.
Females in both rats and human studies show this shift occurs faster than in males. Thus, females exhibit compulsive substance use earlier than males do. Women are also more likely to self-medicate.
Conversely, men are more likely to take drugs and engage in risky behaviors to be part of the group than women.
But the study also cautiously implies that we should not conclude that the differences in addictive behavior between men and women are based solely in neurobiology. Moreover, there are socio-cultural factors that come into play.
For example, from a societal perspective, women tend to face a greater stigma surrounding addiction, and men tend to be offered more social support during recovery. This may lead to an increased rate of relapse in women.
Brain Sex Is Complicated
The study also warned that we should not rely solely on binary model of gender, as this can lead to a misunderstanding between the difference in the sexes regarding addictive behavior. To explain, scientists do not mean that a person’s brain must be classified as just “male” or “female.”
That is, sex differences in the brain are not just a matter of black of white, or a one-size-fits-all male/female distribution. You see, the brain of each individual is made up of a collection of different areas.
From one person to the next, these areas can exhibit characteristics that tend to be more feminine or more masculine.
Moreover, classifying a brain as simply “male” or “female” is not accurate, and does not do justice to the complexity of characteristics and behaviors that are associated with gender.
In conclusion the study suggested, as many have, that addiction is likely determined by a variety of factors. Someone is not going to react to substance use in an identical manner as someone else, just by virtue or being male or female. Also, this single variable also interacts with a number of additional factors, including other social, economic and biological factors.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A. Psychology