Gender Difference Plays a Role in The Effects of Alcohol on the Brain’s Reward System, Study Shows

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Apr 25, 2017 01:16 PM EDT

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 05: Atmosphere at the 6th Annual Beverly Hills Film Festival opening night after party held at Camden House restaurant,on April 5, 2006 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo : Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

A new study has revealed that gender differences can bring different effects on the reward system of the brain. The said study concludes that the reward system structure in alcoholic women is larger than in men. The study also confirmed the results of previous studies that revealed that these same structures were smaller in alcoholic than in non-alcoholic men.

Science Daily reports that the study enrolled currently abstinent individuals with a history of long-term alcohol use disorder. Published in Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging, the study also discovered a negative association between the length of sobriety and the size of fluid-filled ventricles in the center of the brain. The results suggested possible recovery of the overall brain from the effects of alcoholism.

"Until now, little has been known about the volume of the reward regions in alcoholic women, since all previous studies have been done in men. Our findings suggest that it might be helpful to consider gender specific approaches to treatment for alcoholism." said Gordon Harris, PhD of the 3D Imaging Services and Center for Morphometric Analysis of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH, who also served as co-author of the study.

Psych Central reveals that due to the known differences between the psychological and behavioral profiles of alcoholic men and women, the former are likely to demonstrate antisocial characteristics while the latter shows higher levels of anxiety. The aim of the study was to investigate if the reward system differences in men would also be manifested in women.

Results of previous studies showed the average size of reward region structures of alcoholic men were 4.1 percent smaller than their nonalcoholic counterpart. However, in women, the average size of the same structure were 4.4 percent larger in alcoholic women than their nonalcoholic counterparts. The study was a collaboration of researchers of Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston University School of Medicine.

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