, Volume 180, Issue 1, pp 169-176

Gender differences in stress reactivity among cocaine-dependent individuals

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Recent investigations suggest that stress reactivity may play an important role in the relationship between stress and substance use. Important gender differences, such as reasons for using substances, have been well documented, and it is likely that men and women also differ in their stress response.


In this study, gender differences in stress reactivity to two laboratory stress manipulations were examined among 18 men and 21 women with current cocaine dependence.


Participants completed a psychological stress task, the Mental Arithmetic Task (MAT), and a physical stress task, the Cold Pressor Task (CPT). Subjective stress responses (i.e., feelings of stress, anxiety, nervousness, pain, mood), physiological stress responses (i.e., heart rate, skin conductance), and cocaine craving were assessed.


In response to both the MAT and the CPT, significant increases in subjective and physiological stress were observed among participants. Women, however, demonstrated greater subjective reactivity, as evidenced by significantly higher ratings of stress, nervousness, and pain as compared to men. Women also immersed their hand in the cold water bath for a significantly shorter period of time as compared to men.


The current findings are among the first to report on gender differences in stress reactivity among cocaine-dependent individuals. The findings suggest that the mechanisms linking stress and substance use may be gender-specific, and that stress reactivity may play a different role for women than for men. Future research and implications for clinical interventions are discussed.