Life is nothing short of painful for an individual struggling with an untreated addiction. They can’t function as normal people do. They don’t prioritize the same things that the typical person wants. People who have issues with substance abuse desire their “fix” more than anything, which leads to a disconnect from family and friends. The struggles for women differ slightly from those of their male counterparts, however, they aren’t without options. Fortunately, a new study which was conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published in the journal Nature Communications, suggests that birth control may be a measure for women to take as they fight towards recovery.
Although the path to recovery from addiction is layered with many obstacles, the research study 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. These early findings give scientists reason to believe that one of the potential paths to becoming addiction free lies through birth control.
However, the relationship between birth control and addiction is still being determined. Although men rank higher statistically over women for drug addiction, studies show that women are more susceptible to the effects of drug use. A simple visit to a halfway house for women’s addiction will give one an immediate answer as to how difficult it is for women to shake addiction. Researchers suspect, but haven’t been able to confirm, that a woman’s hormonal cycle may have influence on her drug use.
The female sex hormone, estrogen, intensifies the release of dopamine. One of the co-authors on the study, Dr. Erin Calipari, PhD, found that in the female mice used in the experiment, estrogen affected the quantity of dopamine released and also how long the dopamine stayed in the reward pathways. If addiction is related to a woman’s cycle, hormonal birth control could be used to normalize the cycle and associated cravings.
“This study is very promising and may be a new weapon in the fight against addiction,” said Kristie Overstreet, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and Certified Addiction Professional. “Women are affected by their hormone cycles emotionally, physically, and mentally. This study gives us hope that awareness and monitoring women’s hormone cycles may assist in preventing cocaine addiction and future relapse. This could be a huge asset in helping women understand the association of their physiological body and their ability to recover from addiction.”
Still, while the initial findings show a potential course of treatment with birth control and addiction, more research will need to be conducted. This particular study was conducted with mice while in humans, estrogen levels in women vary largely between women who may be on the same day of their cycle or between each woman and any day of her cycle. Still, residents of a halfway house for women’s addiction are in need of help and every measure to safely treat them will be pursued.