A collaborative study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) has found evidence implying that alcoholism may have different effects on the reward system in the brains of women than it does in men.

In their paper published in Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging, the team reports that reward system structures are larger in alcoholic women than in nonalcoholic women, and their report confirmed earlier studies that found the same structures were smaller in alcoholic men than in nonalcoholic men. The study, which enrolled currently abstinent individuals with a history of long-term alcohol use disorder, also found a negative association between the length of sobriety and the size of the fluid-filled ventricles in the center of the brain, suggesting 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.
Co-author Gordon Harris, PhD, of the 3D Imaging Service and the Center for Morphometric Analysis in the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH.
 
We’re planning to take a more detailed look at the impact of factors such as the severity of drinking and the length of sobriety on specific brain structure, and hope to investigate whether the imaging differences seen in this and previous studies are associated with gender-based differences in motivational and emotional functions
Marlene Oscar-Berman, PhD, a professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Anatomy & Neurobiology at BUSM.

 

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Massashusetts General Hospital