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Approved Research

Unpacking sex differences in the neurobiology of heavy alcohol use

Principal Investigator: Dr Valentina Lorenzetti
Approved Research ID: 70289
Approval date: September 14th 2021

Lay summary

We aim to understand: (i) primarily, which brain changes explain how men and women who drink heavily are different, (ii) secondarily, the role of depression that often accompanies heavy drinking; (iii) finally, which brain systems are affected in men and women with worse alcohol use, mood and worse physical health.

This study will help explain why sex differences exist in many aspects of alcohol use and dependence. Indeed, men and women report distinct pathways in and out of addiction and report different levels/types of psychopathologies: men start using earlier, women are twice as likely to become dependent, become addicted more quickly, and find it harder to quit. However, it is unclear how of sex differences in heavy drinkers exist, because of limitations of scientific brain studies thus far. First, the studies to date examine the brain using few measures. Instead, we will measure brain health in detail using multiple indices. Second, the studies thus far examine either samples that are too small to examine complex relationships between alcohol use and related problems; or too large but with very limited data. We will run a large study that measures in detail the brain, how much people use, and people' physical and mental health. Third, most studies have examined heavy drinkers only once. Our study will assess people over time, to help identify who are the most vulnerable men and women to show worse drinking and worse (physical and mental) health over time.

The project is expected to last 24-to-36 months. The project will impact on public health by profiling how men and women who drink heavily are different, and will help to identify which intervention, preventions and treatments may be best for heavy drinking men and women.