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Are the brains of men and women differently affected by alcohol and stress?

27 Junho 2024

Are the brains of men and women differently affected by alcohol and stress?


A new study looks at how the brains of men and women diagnosed with alcohol use disorder respond to stressful stimuli and triggers for alcohol consumption. The differences found are surprising!


Stress is an aggravating factor for alcohol consumption and significantly affects mental health. In this sense, drinking to deal with negative emotions should be considered a warning sign, as it increases the chances of problems with alcohol. In cases where alcohol is already a problem, any stress or trigger, such as seeing images of people drinking, can increase the risk of binge drinking.


Seeking to understand how biological sex can affect these aspects, researchers at Yale University carried out a survey of 77 participants (46 men and 31 women) diagnosed with disorders associated with alcohol use. These participants were asked to view 3 types of images while “mapping” of the brain activity of these individuals was carried out (a technique called “functional magnetic resonance imaging”). After this mapping, patients were monitored for eight weeks regarding their daily alcohol consumption.


The main objective of the research was to evaluate how different “maps” of brain activity were associated with days of heavy drinking over the following eight weeks. And indeed, the researchers found some significant differences: for example, among women, a lower level of brain activation in a region called the anterior cingulate cortex was found to be correlated with more days of heavy drinking. This finding was not observed in males, who, in turn, had a higher level of activation in brain regions known as the hypothalamus and hippocampus.


All of these regions are important components of the brain reward system, and are linked to drug addiction. Such results lead researchers to point out the possibility that alcohol consumption among female and male people occurs due to the activation of different regions of the reward system, highlighting the need to search for different therapeutic strategies according to the sex of the patient. Although more studies are needed to reach a more solid conclusion on the subject, these results contribute to a general trend in the health sector to provide more individualized therapeutic care, taking into account not only disorders, but various characteristics of the individual, such as gender and age.



Radoman, M., Fogelman, N., Lacadie, C., Seo, D., & Sinha, R. (2024). Neural correlates of stress and alcohol cue-induced alcohol craving and of future heavy drinking: evidence of sex differences. American journal of psychiatry, 181(5), 412-422.

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