Do Men & Women Require Different Treatment for Alcoholism?

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

AlcoholicA new study, published in the 1/12 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that abuse of alcohol results in neurological damage in women more rapidly than it does in men.  The finding adds further credence to the argument that men and women may require different treatment for alcoholism.

Research has showed that in the 1980s the male-female ratio for alcohol dependence was roughly 5 males to every female, but the gender gap has been narrowing in recent years.  By 2002, the difference was approximately 2.5 men for every woman.  However, in the recent study by Claudia Fahlke and her colleagues in the Department of Psychology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, alcoholic men and women showed similar reduced serotonin activity, but over much different time periods – four years for women and fourteen years for men.

Carla A. Green, associate professor of public health and prevention medicine and of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University, says that these results were consistent with previous findings, and added that “Given the link between serotonin and depression, and the links between alcohol dependence and depression, this finding suggests one pathway in which alcohol dependence may lead to depression, and do so more quickly among women.”

Does this mean that a gender-based treatment would be more effective?  Shelly Greenfield, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School conducted a recent pilot-study which showed that a women-centered approach could be at least as effective as a mixed group over the course of a 12-week program.  Also significant is her finding that women from the all-female group relapsed less often than those from the mixed group. Greenfield attributes this, at least partly, to the observation that women were able to share emotions and personal information more easily in a single-gender group.

Green, who has worked with Greenfield on prior studies, believes that gender-based treatment is not always appropriate, as men and women respond similarly to many different kinds of treatment.  According to Green, gender specific treatment may be more appropriate for “particular groups of women” such as those who are pregnant, and those who suffer from abuse or eating disorders.

Deni Carise, Chief Clinical Officer at Phoenix House added that women are more likely to have suffered from sexual or emotional trauma, and that for these women, “it’s not about substance abuse differences.”  Carise points out that women are also more likely to be victims of depression, anxiety and suicide, and that those gender differences may be the most important.

Source: Scientific Amercian
Photo: By RayNata (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons 


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