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Can Women Fight Addiction with Birth Control?

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A new study suggests hormones can make women more susceptible to addiction, so could the birth control pill help with recovery?

Hormonal fluctuations can wreak havoc on a woman’s body. From PMS to menopause, the ups and downs can trigger weight gain, depression, and exhaustion, among other inconveniences that affect how women work, play, and communicate. Now, a new study suggests hormones might also make women more susceptible to addiction, specifically cocaine, and that birth control could be the key to helping some women kick the habit.

The study, which was conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published in the journal Nature Communications, found that estrogen intensifies the brain’s dopamine reward pathway and demonstrated that cocaine has its most potent effects during the estrous/menstrual cycle, when release of estrogen is at its highest.

“When we started our research, we started with a small pilot study using both male and female animals [mice] to see if they were the same [attributed the same levels of pleasure from exposure to cocaine]. We actually thought they might be, but what we found is that females were really, really strong and were rewarded more by the drug,” says Dr. Erin Calipari, PhD, co-first author on the paper and a postdoctoral fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine.

She says her team was surprised by the early findings. When the mice were put into an environment linked to drugs, especially females at the height of their estrous cycle, it stimulated a dopamine reward signal even without cocaine use. The female mice spent more time on the side of their cages where the cocaine had previously been administered. “We wondered if it was something inherent to the different sexes, and what we discovered was that it seemed to be regulated by hormones. It was an interesting discovery.”

For the full article and to find out more about how hormones negatively and positively affect women and addiction, check out the original feature article Could Birth Control Help Women Beat Addiction? over at The Fix.

Can Women Fight Addiction with Birth Control?

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APA Reference
Guest Author, P. (2018). Can Women Fight Addiction with Birth Control?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 21 Feb 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.