Sex Differences in Adolescent Neurobiological Risk for Substance Use and Substance Use Disorders

Allyson L. Dir, Leslie A. Hulvershorn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

1 Scopus citations


Purpose of Review: It is well established that adolescence is a period of time during which experimentation with substances escalates, while neurobiological changes simultaneously leave adolescents increasingly vulnerable to the development of substance use disorders (SUDs). This review sought to summarize the literature on sex differences in neurobiological risk for substance use and SUDs among adolescents. Findings from previous reviews are discussed and supplemented with evidence from recent research. Recent Findings: We synthesize literature from human and animal studies and highlight sex differences in development, structure, and function in three primary brain regions linked to SUD risk: the prefrontal cortex, ventral striatum, and amygdala. Evidence from both human and animal studies suggests sex-divergent paths in risk for substance use and addiction: an internalizing path in females and an externalizing path in males. Summary: While much work is still needed to clarify sex-dependent neurobiological changes that contribute to differences in addiction risk, prefrontal and striatal findings have emerged in both animal and human studies. Continued efforts are needed in order to shed light on mechanisms of risk and, eventually, sex-tailored interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)514-521
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Addiction Reports
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • Addiction risk
  • Externalizing
  • Internalizing
  • Neurobiology
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Sex differences
  • Striatum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology

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