A team of international scientists has found evidence implying that alcoholism may have different effects on the reward system in the brains of women than it does in men.
“Until now, little has been known about the volume of the reward regions in alcoholic women, since all previous studies have been done in men,” says study co-author Gordon Harris from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).
“Our findings suggest that it might be helpful to consider gender-specific approaches to treatment for alcoholism,” he added.
The study, published recently in the journal Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging, was conducted jointly by researchers at MGH and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM).
The brain’s reward system is a group of structures – including the amygdala and the hippocampus – that reinforce beneficial experiences, are involved in memory and complex decision-making and have been implicated in the development of substance use disorders.
Since there are known difference between the psychological and behavioral profiles of women and men with alcoholism – women tend toward having higher levels of anxiety, while men are more likely to exhibit anti-social characteristics, the study findings said.
The study enrolled 60 participants with histories of long-term alcoholism — 30 women and 30 men — and an equivalent group of nonalcoholic volunteers to reach the conclusion.
“We’re planning to take a more detailed look at the impact of factors such as the severity of drinking and the length of sobriety on specific brain structure, and hope to investigate whether the imaging differences seen in this and previous studies are associated with gender-based differences in motivational and emotional functions,” says co-author Marlene Oscar-Berman from BUSM.