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Gender differences in subjective stress and neuroendocrine response to a stress task among individuals with opioid dependence: A pilot study. Addict Behav 2019 May;92:148-154



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Pubmed Central ID




Scopus ID

2-s2.0-85059694488 (requires institutional sign-in at Scopus site)   11 Citations


BACKGROUND: Opioid dependence is a significant public health problem in the United States and the number of opioid overdose deaths among women has increased dramatically in comparison to men in the last few years. In this context, understanding the biological mechanisms underlying gender differences in vulnerability to opioid dependence is essential.

METHODS: The current pilot study examined gender differences in subjective stress, heart rate (HR), and cortisol/dephydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) response to a laboratory stressor (Trier Social Stress Test; TSST) or a no-stress condition, and drug cue paradigm among men (n = 21) and women (n = 18) with opioid dependence.

RESULTS: Significant group (TSST vs. no stress) differences emerged in self-reported stress [F(1,35) = 23.8, p < .001], HR [F(1,31) = 12.3; p = .001] and cortisol (F1,34 = 5.0; p = .032) response, such that the TSST group was more reactive than the no-stress group. Women reported greater subjective stress [F(1,35) = 6.5, p <= .015] in response to the TSST compared to men. However, men evidenced marginally greater cortisol and DHEA responses to the TSST compared to women [F(1,34) = 2.7; p = .113 and F(1,31) = 3.4; p = .073, respectively].

CONCLUSIONS: Although women with opioid dependence reported greater subjective stress when exposed to a laboratory stress paradigm as compared to men, the neuroendocrine response was more robust in men. This pattern was similar to gender findings in men and women with cocaine and tobacco use disorders. The blunted cortisol combined with an increased subjective response among women may be a sign of HPA axis dysregulation which could increase vulnerability to relapse in women.

Author List

Gilmore AK, Guille C, Baker NL, Brady KT, Hahn CK, Davis CM, McCauley JL, Back SE


Carley Davis MD Professor in the Urologic Surgery department at Medical College of Wisconsin

MESH terms used to index this publication - Major topics in bold

Heart Rate
Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System
Opioid-Related Disorders
Pilot Projects
Pituitary-Adrenal System
Sex Factors
Stress, Psychological