Biomedical Research

Sex Differences in Neural Mechanisms Moderating Benefit and Dependency

Sex differences take place in how men and women set onto the path of addiction. Women transition to addiction more rapidly then men because they are more likely to begin taking drugs that reduce stress and depression.

By Ilma Khan

Published 10:07 PM EST, Mon June 28, 2021


Things such as peer pressure, depression, and exposure to abuse and trauma can lead to the use of drugs. Using drugs once, telling yourself “just this one time” can lead to a brain disorder called addiction, using things such as alcohol and drugs despite knowing the life-threatening causes. In this review, we get to focus and discuss the main sex differences in the behavioral effects and the atomic structure of psychostimulants such as cocaine and opioids such as morphine and heroin. Some data given in this review allows us to conclude that males (ages 12–25) are more likely to abuse or be dependent upon marijuana or alcohol, and females (ages 12-25) are more likely to abuse or be dependent upon cocaine and psychotherapeutic drugs. As stated in the review, a recent cross-cultural analysis of sex/gender differences in substance use disorders displays a major diversity across cultures, showing that men are more likely to have access to substances than women, this difference in accessibility appears to account for much of the gender difference in the generality of substance use. The goal of this review was for us as the audience to understand the 5 w’s to the differences and similarities between males and females, besides, we cannot assume that females are just males with the letters “f” and “e” attached to the front. After advancing and growing this research to further levels is the only way addictive disorders can be successfully prevented and treated in the entire population.

General Analysis

This paper displays a detailed, informative, and deep understanding of the variations of drug use between males and females. Not only does it allow us, readers, to see these differences between genders, but allows us to see the effects of addiction on chromosomes, autosomes, and hormones in females and males. The sections in this paper allow us the readers to focus on the sex differences on the four neural systems that are the main characters in the addictive process, dopamine, MORs, dynorphin, and BDNF. Neural systems are structures of cells, tissues, and organs that regulate the body’s responses to internal and external stimuli, these systems contain the brain, spinal cord, nerves, ganglia, and parts of the receptor and effector organs. It was an interesting read, with the details included in the paper it enhanced my knowledge further on the contrasts in brain activity among the genders. This study and research have played a role in the contribution of medical knowledge to our society by defining and stating the fact that there are differences in the process of addiction in males and females. These dissimilarities are identified by identifying the gaps in knowledge about how neural systems communicate with each gender and influence addictive behavior, emphasizing throughout that the effect of sex can cause a subtle difference, indicating that male/female drug use data should be recorded despite the outcome.

Evaluation of Methods Used

The techniques used in this paper are effective and can be used to solve other problems in modern-day society related to the neural systems and addiction. Addiction is very common in today’s society, these addictive disorders, these brain disorders are a real problem in today’s society in the entire population, which—at the last U.S. census count (2010)—was 50.8% female. The information and detail are given in this paper plus the addition of more future research can bring us closer to approaching the prevention and treatment of addiction. The researchers and writers of this paper highlighted the missing spaces in knowledge and led us into new research about the mechanisms specifically mediating addiction in both genders. The methods used in this paper led us to the conclusion of the differences and similarities between genders in addiction as well as the characters in the process of addiction and the development of the addiction cycle,  three-stage cycle: 1. initiation/escalation, 2. withdrawal/negative affect, and 3. preoccupation/craving. The researchers know that there is a long journey ahead of them to find the treatment of addiction that is effective for each gender, they know that more research needs to be done. Overall the paper did find a conclusion to the connection between the neural systems and addiction but many questions are left unanswered and need to be answered by more research on this brain disorder.


Concerns that can arise from this study include the relationship between animals and humans. Animal testing to find an additional treatment may work but translating this to humans will cause more obstacles. The number of people depending on their gender, female or male that are addicted to the use of drugs varies, comparing data from past years to now indicates that numbers have declined but also increased in some situations. This can cause worries by making sure that both treatments work for each gender, in some cases more females are addicted and in some cases, males are more addicting. It is important to find a treatment for both genders and not one and it is also important that all addiction reports are recorded, every gender, every person counts toward the journey of preventing and treating this disorder. This paper was published in the right journal, neuropsychopharmacology is the study of the effects of drugs on the nervous system and its consequences on the mind and behavior. This journal focuses on this study of the drugs and its connections to the nervous system which is what is displayed in this research paper by connecting addiction in genders with neural systems. The readers and audience of this journal will care for this research since it correlates with the idea of drugs and the nervous system, the main subject of this journal. 

Problems and Admirations

The methods and evaluation techniques in this paper are very in-depth, there is lots of information and lots of discussion about every aspect of the influences of drugs on each gender’s hormones, chromosomes, etc. The system of methods allows us to grow our knowledge but gives me individually a hard time to comprehend all of this information at once. The idea is stated clearly, there are and always will be differences and similarities of addiction between genders but the evidence given to back this up is almost too in-depth. All the answers are situated within the paper for readers to find which does not allow us to be curious or do more research of our own. It is almost too long, I think they could’ve been more broad and kept it more simple and short which would allow us the audience to interpret more things and ask more questions. I appreciated the connections made about the organizational vs. activational influences on each gender, they allowed readers to dig deep into the writers’ thoughts and thoughts. The future related to addiction after this research is big and long, the researchers and writers of this paper also have some biological questions that arose from their research such as “Are there sex differences in the efficacy of pharmacotherapy treatments (i.e., methadone, buprenorphine, naloxone) for opioid addiction?”. I think that from the publication of this paper, more researchers will be inspired to join on the journey for finding addiction treatment and to answer the biological question that arose from the framework of this paper. Future researchers will use our knowledge today and answer the question many researchers have today about addiction to approach the decline of addiction. 

Ilma Khan, Youth Medical Journal 2021


“Sex Differences in Neural Mechanisms Mediating Reward and Addiction | Neuropsychopharmacology.” Neuropsychopharmacology, Springer Nature, Accessed 7 June 2021.


By Ilma Khan

Ilma Khan is a student from Texas. She is a tennis player who is looking to continue playing in college and enjoys spending time with her friends and family. She is currently interested in the fields of medicine specifically neurology and cardiology and hopes to become a cardiothoracic surgeon in the future!

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