Brain Damage from Drug Abuse Higher in Women

Brain health is incredibly important. From the air we breathe to the foods we eat, every daily action affects our brain. We just wrote about foods to eat to keep your brain healthy. But we haven't explored drug abuse and its effect on the brain. Most of us are aware that abusing stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine aren't partners in long-term brain health. To take it even further, however, is new research published in the journal, Radiology, that shows women's brain health is more effected than a man's.

After abstaining for over a year, women who were previously hooked on stimulants had notably less gray matter volume in their brains, while once-dependent men didn’t see such changes. Gray matter is where everything that makes up a person — senses, language, memory, behavior, and thought — is organized.  Once gray matter is lost, the patient will perform worse in whatever area of the brain such as language, emotion, memory and cognition. 

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In the conducted study, men did have more drug related symptoms than women, which made the results surprising. Substance dependence is generally more common among men than in women as well. Psychological evidence has put forth this being due to men externalizing their emotions versus internalizing, which can lead to impulsive behavior. 

So why did women see the brain changes? Scientists aren't quite sure if it's the smaller amount of gray matter volume of stimulant dependence or if the differences contributed to the development of stimulant dependence. Some of the researchers estimated that our brains could respond differently to abstinence and have various recovery processes, but this doesn't mean one sex is better able to recover. What it means is that behavioral, emotional and personality differences alter the journey. Another theory is related to estrogen in women increasing their susceptibility to reward and drug relapse. The phase of the menstrual cycle may play a role as well.