Sex differences in behavioral dyscontrol: Role in drug addiction and novel treatments

Marilyn E. Carroll, John R. Smethells

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


The purpose of this review is to discuss recent findings related to sex differences in behavioral dyscontrol that lead to drug addiction, and clinical implications for humans are discussed. This review includes research conducted in animals and humans that reveals fundamental aspects of behavioral dyscontrol. The importance of sex differences in aspects of behavioral dyscontrol, such as impulsivity and compulsivity, is discussed as major determinants of drug addiction. Behavioral dyscontrol during adolescence is also an important consideration, as this is the time of onset for drug addiction. These vulnerability factors additively increase drug-abuse vulnerability, and they are integral aspects of addiction that covary and interact with sex differences. Sex differences in treatments for drug addiction are also reviewed in terms of their ability to modify the behavioral dyscontrol that underlies addictive behavior. Customized treatments to reduce behavioral dyscontrol are discussed, such as (1) using natural consequences such as non-drug rewards (e.g., exercise) to maintain abstinence, or using punishment as a consequence for drug use, (2) targeting factors that underlie behavioral dyscontrol, such as impulsivity or anxiety, by repurposing medications to relieve these underlying conditions, and (3) combining two or more novel behavioral or pharmacological treatments to produce additive reductions in drug seeking. Recent published work has indicated that factors contributing to behavioral dyscontrol are an important target for advancing our knowledge on the etiology of drug abuse, intervening with the drug addiction process and developing novel treatments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number175
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Issue numberFEB
StatePublished - Feb 8 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are grateful to Troy Veile, Seth Johnson, Jared Mitchell, and Danielle Johansson for technical support, and to Dr. Natashia Swalve for reviewing the manuscript. This research was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse grants P50 DA033942, R01 DA002486, R01 DA003240, R01 DA019942 (MEC), T32 DA07097 (JS; Thomas Molitor, PI), and the University Medical Foundation, University of Minnesota

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Carroll and Smethells.


  • Animal models
  • Behavioral dyscontrol
  • Drug addiction
  • Food addiction
  • Impulsivity
  • Novel treatments
  • Sex differences
  • Sweet intake


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