Sex and Gender Differences of Importance to Addiction Science

Video length: 5:29



Dr. Sinha Speaking:

Well, women are different from men and because drugs, each drug of abuse affects us differently.

When we take in food, or a drug it has to get processed by the body.

So,there's a difference in biology that targets the drug what we call pharmacokinetics or the dynamics of breaking down the drug, but also for the drug to go into our bloodstream, and then to have its effects.

So, men and women differ in terms of the effects of each drug acutely, but then over time how it affects them over time of use and how much we use will be different for men and women, too.

Sex is a biological variable.

Men and women have different biologies, our genes are largely similar, but they're also genes that are specific to our gender or sex.

So, it's a biological variable.

It relates to biological processes that represent us as being a male or female.

Gender on the other hand, is are more psychological and psychosocial and cultural variables.

So we use gender for those kinds of measures or thinking about outcomes that relate to psychology or cultural social cultural variables.

So thinking about the effects of a drug on the body that would be a sex variable.

On the other hand, if we start to think about the rates of abuse in men and women and what may be influencing whether women, in fact, will become addicted to a drug versus men at higher rates or lower rates we might look for gender differences because they might actually also be in addition to biology there might also be cultural and social and psychological variables.

So stress actually is an integral factor, we think in influencing risk for addiction but also how we become addicted and the reason for that is that a lot of times people will use drugs to change their mood.

This is commonly known, and so men and women would want to change their mood differently.

Sometimes women will often be focused on emotional distress and so they're very tied to their stress levels and perhaps through that wanting to make themselves feel normal again, feel better.

Men, on the other hand, have a propensity perhaps, to feel good and feel high, feel excited, feel aroused, and so they may be looking for a high.

All psychostimulants cocaine, opiates, nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, all stimulate or affect the biological stress pathway which we have a hardwired stress pathway in our bodies and brains to modulate mood and also to alert us to danger and respond to danger and to promote survival and those pathways are actually different for men and women and this is why it's actually again important to look for sex differences in men and women in response to stress but also in the interaction of why we take a certain drug and then its effects on the stress pathways.

What we're finding is that because we have a different biology, because sex plays an important role in pursuit of showing some distinct ways in which drugs affect men and women, there is likely a different way in which treatments… whether their behavioral strategies or medications will impact our brains to help us improve and cope with addiction and recover from it.

So we believe actually that they're likely will be different medications or different strategies that will be optimum for man vs for women. 

The NIH has a new policy on considering sex as a biological variable in the research that is being conducted.

I think it's a very important policy because it allows us to understand the biology more specific to the differences in men and women.

It allows us to begin to not only understand the biology to tailor our treatments and understand the risk factors that may be affecting boys and girls or men and women differently we have not had that in all of the diseases that affect us as humans.

This is a new turn what we are going to end up having is data and science that will specifically address whether it is some more or different and in what ways specific to women's health versus men's health.