Q. The Brain Program Alumni was absolutely stimulating! Wish I'd known the information about the brain and male-female differences 30 years ago! It could have made a huge difference in my relationships! Do you know of any research about gender differences and the use of drugs?

A. Over the past few years the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has been studying this topic. Research shows that gender differences do play a role from the very earliest opportunity individuals have to use drugs. Here are a few key findings:

  • Males are more likely than females to have opportunities to use drugs.
  • When given the opportunity to use drugs, both males and females are equally likely to do so and to progress from initial use to addiction.
  • There are some vulnerability differences between the genders. Males and females appear to be equally vulnerable to inhalants, heroin, hallucinogens, tobacco, and cocaine (although males are more likely to exhibit abnormalities of blood flow in the frontal lobes of the brain during cocaine use). Females are more vulnerable to sedatives and drugs designed to treat anxiety or sleeplessness. Males are more vulnerable to alcohol and marijuana.
  • In relation to nicotine use, males and females are equally likely to become addicted yet females typically smoke cigarettes with lower nicotine content than those smoked by males, smoke fewer cigarettes per day, and inhale less deeply. However, females are less successful than males in quitting smoking and seem to have higher relapse rates after they do quit. Nicotine replacement therapy (e.g., nicotine gum or patch) works better for males than for females.
  • There are differences between males and females who seek treatment for drug abuse. Women in treatment programs are less likely than men to have graduated from high school and to be employed. Women are more likely than men to have additional health problems, to have sought previous drug treatment, to have attempted suicide, and to have experienced prior sexual/physical abuse.
  • Drug abuse is nearly twice as likely to be directly or indirectly associated with AIDS in females (66%) as in males (34%).