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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Jul;35(6):798-806. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.11.005. Epub 2009 Dec 9.

Community-dwelling cocaine-dependent men and women respond differently to social stressors versus cocaine cues.

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Medical University of South Carolina, 67 President St, Charleston, SC 29403, United States.


There are likely to be gender differences in determinants of relapse to drug use following abstinence in cocaine-dependent individuals. Cocaine-dependent women are more likely to attribute relapse to negative emotional states and interpersonal conflict. Cocaine dependence has also been linked to dysregulation of stress response and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis which may differ between genders. Subjective and HPA-axis responses to a social evaluative stressor, the Trier Social Stress Test (TRIER), and in vivo cocaine-related cues were examined in the present study.


There were no gender differences in magnitude of craving responses to the TRIER or the CUE. Both genders had a greater craving response to the CUE than to the TRIER, but the magnitude of the difference was greater for men than women (p=0.04). Cocaine-dependent subjects, compared to the control group, had significantly higher response throughout the TRIER (p<0.0001) and CUE (p<0.0001) testing sessions. There were no gender differences and no gender by cocaine interaction for ACTH responses to the TRIER, although women had lower baseline ACTH (p=0.049). On the CUE task, in contrast, female cocaine-dependent subjects had a more blunted ACTH response than did the other three groups (p=0.02). Female cocaine-dependent subjects also had a lower odds of a positive cortisol response to the TRIER as compared to the other three groups (OR=0.84, 95% CI=[0.02, 1.01]). During the CUE task, cocaine-dependent subjects had overall higher mean cortisol levels (p=0.0001), and higher odds of demonstrating a positive cortisol response to the CUE (OR=2.61, 95% CI=[1.11, 6.11]). No gender differences were found in ACTH responses to the CUE. The results are reviewed in the context of the existing literature on gender differences in cocaine dependence and potential implications for treatment are discussed.

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