Sex differences in compulsive behavior: emphasis on cannabinoids

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Fattore L1, Melis M2

1CNR Institute of Neuroscience-Cagliari, National Research Council, Italy
2Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Cagliari, Italy

A compulsion is a repetitive, ritualistic behavior that a person performs without rational motivation. Compulsivity refers to the tendency to repeat acts in a habitual or stereotyped manner typically aimed at preventing hypothetical negative consequences. Impulsive actions arise from a lack of behavioral inhibition that results in an inability to control or suppress premature or inappropriate behavior. Impulsivity is thus defined as the inability to withhold a motor response. Although apparently as diametrically opposed, being compulsivity mostly associated with harm-avoidance and impulsivity with risk-seeking, the two share neuropsychological underpinnings involving dysfunctional inhibition of thoughts and behaviors. Inhibitory control deficits contribute to several psychiatric disorders including, pathological gambling, binge eating disorders, ADHD and drug addiction. Men and women differ in their propensity to act compulsively and in their ability to control impulses, and differences related to gender (i.e. socio-cultural distinctions between men and women) and sex (i.e. anatomical and physiological distinctions between males and females) in inhibition and self-regulation have been reported.
The goal of this talk is to summarize current evidence for sex differences in impulsive and compulsive behavior with a focus on cannabinoid addiction. Sex-dependent differences in cannabis abuse and dependence will be examined in the context of pathophysiological regulation of impulse and motivation by neuromodulators (i.e. gonadal hormones) and neurotransmitters (i.e. dopamine). Advances in the understanding of the sex differences in the capability to control impulses and motivational states is key for the determination of efficacious biologically based intervention and prevention strategies for several neuropsychiatric disorders where loss of impulse control and compulsivity are the core symptoms.

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