Although much substance abuse research has been done on men, women can be addicts too. And studies show that female hormones may influence dependency.
According to Emily Anthes of Scientific American, women may actually be more susceptible to addiction than men, and estrogen may be to blame. In one study, rats who received estrogen supplements became addicted to cocaine more quickly than animals deprived of the hormone. Another study looked at women's menstrual cycles: the subjects derived far more pleasure from stimulants in the estrogen-dominated part of their cycles than in later weeks when estrogen and progesterone were more balanced. And yet another study found that women had a much easier time quitting smoking if they started in the progesterone-heavy part of the cycle, lending credence to the idea that estrogen intensifies addiction while progesterone tempers it.
These studies raise a number of questions, like what effect hormonal birth control might have on addiction. But at base, they underscore the fact that treatments for addiction can't be one-size-fits-all. Treating women based on a model developed for men has proved ineffective for illnesses like heart disease, and as we learn more about the physical underpinnings of addiction, it's no surprise that these too should vary by gender. Women's addiction problems have frequently taken center stage lately, but rarely in productive ways — we gawk at Lindsay Lohan's downward spiral and speculate on which starlet will be next. Rather than treating female addicts as entertainment, we should be recognizing that they need help — and that treatment methods invented mostly for men may not be the best way to help them.