How Cocaine Affects Women Differently

Cocaine is one of the most commonly abused drugs around the world, trailing not far behind alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. The drug is associated with increased risk of addiction and negative impact on physical, mental and emotional health for both men and women.

However, cocaine affects men and women in very different ways, and those differences are important when it comes to drug and alcohol treatment or rehab. If men and women respond to cocaine differently, they also respond to treatment differently.

One research study involved people of a similar age who had been abstinent from cocaine and other stimulants for 13 months. MRI exams revealed that cocaine negatively affected the gray matter of both men and women, but the brains of females displayed more damage and significantly reduced volume of gray matter, especially in parts of the brain responsible for emotions, habit formation, impulsivity and decision making.

It also appears that cocaine affects women differently at various times during the monthly cycle, and that intensity of withdrawal and cravings may also fluctuate. A study reported by NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) suggests that women may be less sensitive to cocaine than men, and the decreased sensitivity to the drug is more pronounced during the menstrual period.

The difference may be partially due to metabolic changes in the female body, but some scientists believe that the increased mucus production during the monthly cycle may provide a protective barrier that serves to block absorption of cocaine through the nasal cavity.

Clinical studies also indicate that in general, women develop dependence on cocaine and other stimulants sooner than men. Women frequently experience more severe cravings and thus are more likely to relapse after stopping.

Researchers admit that unknown factors remain, and the differences between cocaine’s affect on men and women will become clearer in time.

Implications for Drug and Alcohol Treatment and Rehab

Drug rehab programs and addiction counselors must recognize that biological differences affect how cocaine affects women, and must adapt treatment accordingly. Tailored addiction relapse prevention and aftercare programs are critical for women who are addicted to cocaine and other stimulants.

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