A small new study has found that women crave nicotine more or less depending on their menstrual cycles. The study is only preliminary, but it opens the door to the possibility that a woman’s period could be the key to her ability to quit smoking or to treat other addictions. Most addiction research has been conducted on men, and addiction has traditionally been seen as a man’s problem. Unfortunately that leaves women out, even though we know there are important gender differences in how people get addicted and how they should be treated. Research like this small study should draw attention to the need to spend more time and effort investigating women and addiction.
Your Period and Nicotine Cravings
The small study came from researchers at the University of Montreal who were looking at nicotine cravings in a group of male and female smokers. They scanned the brains of 34 participants while showing them images that were either neutral or designed to induce cravings for nicotine. They hadn’t intended to look for cravings related to the female participants’ menstrual cycles, but that’s what they observed. The women in the study who were in the follicular phase of their period, also known as ovulation, showed the most brain activity related to cravings in their scans. The women showed the lowest activity and fewer cravings during the luteal phase of their cycles. This is the time between ovulation and the start of menstruation. Hormone levels change during the menstrual cycle, and this small piece of evidence suggests that the hormones surging during ovulation stimulate cravings for nicotine.
Potential for Treating Addiction in Women
The researchers involved in the nicotine study are quick to point out that their work is far from definitive or conclusive. Hormone levels vary from one woman to the next, and a study involving many more participants would be needed to confirm the results from this one. Furthermore, the researchers were not able to control for other factors that may have accounted for the variations in cravings among the female participants. Even with all of the warnings, this study is intriguing for anyone interested in addiction and gender differences. Previous research has shown that there are significant differences between men and women when it comes to how they abuse substances and how abuse develops into addiction. We know that men abuse drugs more than women, but we also know that women become addicted more quickly and more easily. Women start with lower doses of drugs, but they escalate their use and become addicted more quickly than men. Women also have a more difficult time quitting and are more likely to relapse. What the small nicotine craving study has shown us is that there could be a biological basis for these gender differences. It highlights the need to include women more often in research on addiction and how to treat it. Experts may need to develop treatment strategies that are targeted to work best for men and treatments for substance abuse that may work better for women.