There are many reasons people turn to drugs such as cocaine; some do so out of curiosity while others use drugs to help blot out painful memories associated with a traumatic experience. However, scientists now believe that women are more likely to develop a cocaine addiction because of their menstrual cycle. A new study has suggested that the surges in hormones experienced by women during their menstrual cycle could mean they are more likely to develop a cocaine addiction. In addition to these findings, it has been suggested that those affected by a cocaine addiction could be helped by taking the contraceptive pill.
During a woman’s menstrual cycle, oestrogen (the female sex hormone) stimulates the reward system in the brain; this means that cocaine is at its most potent when oestrogen release is at its highest – this is usually around the middle of the cycle, or day fourteen.
The team of researchers from New York published their findings in Nature Communications. They are hoping that by using the contraceptive pill, they will be able to adjust the hormonal cycle of the woman, which will, therefore, provide a new treatment for cocaine addiction.
Lead author of the study, which took place at New York’s Icahn School of Medicine, Dr Erin Calipari, said, “Our study will change the way we think about addiction research to emphasise the need to further understand female subjects, as most research on addiction has been conducted in male subjects. Further study of the oestrogen-reward pathway is important, as it is quite possible that oestrogen may have similar effects on other forms of substance abuse.”
Studies in the past have found that once a woman tries cocaine, she is much more likely to develop an addiction to the substance than a man would. Despite the fact that there are more male cocaine addicts than female addicts, studies have shown that when women try the drug once, they are much more likely to use it again. Women are also much more inclined to develop a full-blown addiction to cocaine than men are, and in a quicker timeframe.
The researchers found that women get a greater high from cocaine when oestrogen levels are at their highest, and they tested mice to find out the reason. They attached fibre optic probes to the brains of the rodents to measure dopamine levels. Dopamine is known as the feel-good hormone, and researchers found that the amount of this chemical that is released by the brain after taking cocaine is affected by oestrogen. They also measured the length of time that dopamine stayed in the synapse between the brain cells.
It was discovered that as oestrogen levels were increased, the pleasurable effects of the drug were boosted in the female mice. Scientists noticed that the mice spent more time in the area of the cage where they were given the cocaine, which meant that they associated this area with pleasure. The female mice spent more time in this area, suggesting that they were getting more pleasure from cocaine than the male mice were.
Dr Calipari said, “The mice quickly learned that a particular environment is linked to drugs, and we demonstrated that when these mice, especially females at the height of their oestrous cycle, were put into that environment, it stimulated a dopamine reward signal even without cocaine use. It’s the same kind of strong, learned response that we know happens in humans.”
According to researchers, the link between the reward pathways of the brain and oestrogen have evolved, with Dr Eric Nestler saying, “Our findings underscore the unique insight into normal brain function and disease pathology that results from studying both sexes. This approach is essential to enable the field to develop optimised treatments for drug addiction and other conditions for women as well as men.”
As a cocaine addiction is notoriously difficult to treat due to the intense cravings that patients regularly experience for many months after quitting, any new treatment is welcome news. However, it may be some time before this type of treatment can be used.
Currently, a cocaine addiction is treated with a comprehensive recovery programme that would include a detox, rehabilitation and aftercare. With professional help, cocaine addicts can find out the cause of their addiction before learning how to move on to a drug-free life.
Both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programmes aim to help the recovering addict learn how to deal with various life situations in a more positive manner. Treatments such as individual counselling, group therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and 12-step work will be used to achieve long-term recovery.
Here at UKAT, we use a range of traditional therapies such as those mentioned above in conjunction with holistic treatments designed to heal the mind, body and spirit of the individual. If you would like more information on our rehabilitation programmes, why not give us a call today.
Source: Could the Pill cure addiction? Women are more likely to be cocaine addicts ‘because of their periods’ (The Sun)
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