Aims Gender-related differences in the pharmacological effects of addictive drug are an emerging issue. This review examines gender differences in both pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic aspects of alcohol and cocaine intake since they cause complex pharmacological interactions, not least the formation of the active metabolite cocaethylene. Methods The MEDLINE database was searched from 1990 to 2014 in order to find articles related to gender differences in alcohol, cocaine and cocaethylene pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. Results Besides the well known gender differences in alcohol pharmacokinetics, women appear more susceptible to alcohol-mediated brain damage and seem to suffer more than men the acute effects of alcohol on hepatic and gonadal hormones. No significant gender differences have been found in the pharmacokinetics of cocaine taken alone; yet, in women pharmacological sensitivity to the drug seems to vary in relation to menstrual cycle; moreover, progesterone attenuates subjective effects of cocaine in women. Higher ratings at a subjective measure of mental/physical well-being have been observed in women when given cocaine and alcohol, alone or in combination. Finally, among subjects dependent on both alcohol and cocaine, men only benefit from naltrexone, whereas women used more cocaine during the trial and were less compliant to therapy than men. Conclusions The observed subtle gender differences in the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of both alcohol and cocaine may have no subtle influence on the natural history of the co-abuse of the two drugs by women.
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