The complex relationships between gender, genetics, and environment may play different roles in substance abuse between men and women. according to a new study. The study, conducted by sociologist Brea Perry of Indiana University, looked at 4,307 adults and a total of 1,026 families to determine how social integration in their environment and genetics can affect the substance abuse habits different genders. Because substance abuse is sometimes used as a coping mechanism for stress, Perry looked specifically at subjects with the “GABRA2 gene, which she explains is related to increased risk of substance use disorders due to sensitivity to stressful social environments.” Some of the subjects in the study had substance abuse issues whereas others did not.
The results of the study showed a different response between women and men. Men with the GABRA2 gene who had strong family and social ties in the community were less likely to abuse substances. However, the study found that the inverse was true for women. The results suggested that strong social and family ties did not reduce the likelihood of substance abuse for women, as it did for men.
The reason for this, the study’s author Perry suggests, is that the nature of the ties to family, community, and environment are different for women and men. “In families and communities, for example, women often bear more responsibility for developing and maintaining relationships and so more of the care work that is required in those contexts.” The result may be that developing and maintaining environmental ties is more stressful for women than for men, as women are held to a higher responsibility in doing so than are men. In women with the GABRA2 gene, who are more sensitive to stress, this stress can override the benefits that strong environmental ties have in reducing the likelihood of substance abuse. Perry continues, “We cannot assume that a social environment that is favorable for men, and thus reduces the harmful impact of a risky genotype, is also beneficial for women, or vice versa.”
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