Are Family and Community Ties Protective or Stressful for Women Who Are Susceptible to Substance Use Disorders?

women and stress

Medical News Today reports on the results of a large study lead by sociologist Brea Perry of Indiana University that included 4307 adults from 1,026 families.  The research team looked for the presence of a GABRA2 gene variant that has been linked to an increased risk of substance abuse.  Though the MNT article does not explain this link, several studies have shown that people with certain GABRA2 variants  are more likely to be alcoholics, possibly because they have different activity in the insula, a brain area “known to moderate craving, addictive behavior and anxiety” (  Individuals with this variant in GABRA2 also tend to show more impulsiveness when they are under stress in experimental exercises. Some studies have implicated GABRA2 variations in alcoholism associated with anxiety disorders (

The study by Perry et al found that strong family and community ties reduced the likelihood  that men with the GABRA2 variation would abuse alcohol, drugs or tobacco.  However, the  study found that the opposite was true for women. Strong social and family ties did not appear to be a protective factor against substance abuse for women with this genetic variant.

Perry noted that the different results for men and women might be because they “experience some aspects of the social world in divergent ways”. She observed that for women, family and community relationships may actually prove burdensome in a way they typically do not for 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.

Perry suggested that women with heightened stress sensitivity might benefit from stronger social services and programs, such as  government-subsidized child care or in-home health workers for those with ill relatives that reduce pressure that can stem from family and community relationships.

Read more about addiction and the family in Dr. Wood’s books: Children of Alcoholism: The Struggle for Self and Intimacy in Adult Life and Raising Healthy Children in an Alcoholic Home

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