Gender, Mood, and Alcohol Abuse

It has long been understood that there is a strong overlap between mood disorders such as depression and anxiety and alcohol abuse disorder (AUD), but not much has been known about a mechanism connecting these conditions. Additionally, differences in drinking behavior have been observed between men and women, but without an understanding of any underlying physiology. A research group at Tufts University may have found some answers – at least in mice.

The study, published recently in the journal eNeuro1, suggests that an area of the brain known as the basolateral amygdala (BLA), may be the epicenter of the connection between behavioral disorders and alcohol abuse – helping to explain why so many people can consume alcohol but only a fraction develop an addiction. Signals from this part of the brain have a large influence on emotional states such as fear and anxiety. This current study demonstrated that that signaling is altered in the presence of alcohol, and that these changes present differently in males versus females.

Why might explain this? The researchers are speculating that GABA receptors present in the connections between the BLA and the prefrontal cortex (where cognition, personality, and decision-making happen) contain a subunit that is additionally sensitive to ovarian hormones. This may also explain differences in drinking behavior that have long been observed between men and women2. In addition, stress also appears to impact drinking behavior differently in in men versus women, further suggesting that a physiologic connection such as this is present.

Why is this important? Despite that fact that AUD has been around almost as long as humans, we still lack a lot of fundamental knowledge of the physiology that drives this and other addictions – largely because we saw these conditions as moral failings and not medical conditions. Understanding the physiciologic and biologic mechanisms that are involved in AUD should help in the development of better and more effective treatment approaches.

 

References

  1. DiLeo A, Antonodiou P, Ha S, Maguire JL. Sex differences in the alcohol-mediated modulation of BLA network states. eneuro. Published online July 4, 2022:ENEURO.0010-22.2022. doi:10.1523/ENEURO.0010-22.2022
  2. Patock-Peckham JA, Corbin WR, Smyth H, Canning JR, Ruof A, Williams J. Effects of stress, alcohol prime dose, and sex on ad libitum drinking. Psychol Addict Behav. Published online 2021:No Pagination Specified-No Pagination Specified. doi:10.1037/adb0000801