Do Men and Women Crave Alcohol Differently?

man and woman on beach cravings gender specific


There has long been a complicated relationship between alcohol drinking and stress. On the one hand, alcohol has anxiety-reducing properties and can actually relieve stress. However, alcohol also acts as a stressor, activating the sympathetic (stress response) nervous system. Stress is also associated with poor outcomes or relapse for those in treatment and recovery, acting as an “alcohol cue” that induces craving and heavy drinking.


Do Men and Women Crave Alcohol Differently?

In a new study conducted by Yale University, researchers looked at brain responses among those with alcohol use disorder when they were exposed to stress (alcohol cues). For the first time, the study looked at the difference between men’s and women’s craving activation. The study found:

  • “Distinct brain circuits underlie alcohol use outcomes in women and men.”
  • Men displayed cravings in response to alcohol-related cues
  • Women displayed similar cravings in response to alcohol and stress cues. In other words, women have a more ‘generalized” craving response.
  • Anxiety activation in the brain is a sign of future heavy drinking


What is the Significance of the Study?

After the pandemic, there was a rise in binge drinking, particularly among women. These days, on college campuses, women are actually binge drinking more than men for the first time in history. There is a growing concern regarding the alcohol health risks unique to women. Recognizing gender differences allows Sanford Behavioral Health and others to provide more effective interventions for treatment, paving the way to improved outcomes for those with alcohol use disorder.


“Sex differences in stress- and alcohol cue-induced responses in the cortico-striatal-limbic network related to subjective alcohol craving and to heavy drinking indicated that distinct brain circuits underlie alcohol use outcomes in women and men. These findings underscore the need for sex-specific therapeutics to address this neural dysfunction effectively.” Neural Correlates of Stress and Alcohol Cue-Induced Alcohol Craving and of Future Heavy Drinking: Evidence of Sex Differences


Women’s Binge Drinking Outpaces Men’s After the Pandemic

women wine


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