The Power of Hormones and Addiction: The Good and The Bad
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The Power of Hormones and Addiction: The Good and The Bad

Hormones affect many different processes in the human body, including reproduction, mood, and metabolism. However, these little chemical messengers can produce both positive and negative effects throughout our system. Those dealing with substance use and addiction issues are dealing with these effects, and research continues to discover how hormones play a vital role in both increasing the likelihood of drug use as well as helping to stop it. 

The Negative Side of Hormones and Substance Use

While the overall rate of addiction is higher in males, research has shown that when females have the opportunity to try stimulant drugs like cocaine, they are more likely than men to keep using and are more susceptible to cravings and relapse (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

A particularly interesting statistic among women and stimulant drug use like cocaine is that women report experiencing a great “high” from cocaine when estrogen levels are rising during their menstrual cycles. So why the increase?

A study from The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (2017) shed some light on how hormones, especially during a woman’s menstrual cycle, play a role in addiction. The research team found that estrogen affects:

  • The amount of dopamine released by neurons in response to cocaine.
  • The length of time dopamine stays in the synapse between brain cells. 

These two mechanisms of action resulted in estrogen increasing the brain’s dopamine reward pathway and demonstrated that cocaine has its most intense effects during a woman’s menstrual cycle when the release of estrogen is at its highest. The conclusion of the study suggested that a “possible addiction intervention could be to adjust this hormonal cycle through the use of birth control pills or a similar strategy.” 

How Hormones Can Help

Panelists from the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior Hormones (2018) agreed that hormonal hunger signals could be the key to new treatments for drug and alcohol addiction. The hunger hormone released by the stomach, called Ghrelin, played a starring role in this research. A joint team from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) on the panel reported that Ghrelin can influence the reward value of alcohol much like it increases the reward value of food. But how does this happen? 

Dr. Mitchell Roitman, a neuroscientist on the panel explained, “Hormones from the gut act in the brain to modulate dopamine signaling, which controls decisions to seek out rewards. Since drugs like stimulants and alcohol act on those same dopamine circuits in the brain, gut hormones could potentially turn their rewarding effects up or down in the same fashion.” These investigative results provide marketed evidence for clinical trials of specific hunger hormones for people needing addiction treatment. The panel revealed that medications affecting hunger hormones like Ghrelin are already FDA approved for obesity and Type II diabetes and that these drugs could also be vital in treating drug cravings and relapse.

Addiction and Treatment

If you or a loved one is battling addiction or a substance use disorder, get help now. Make the life-saving decision to free yourself from the harmful and deadly effects of addiction and contact Daylight Recovery Services today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT. While there is no cure for addiction, treatment is available, and there is hope in recovery. Do not be afraid to ask for help.

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