Erin Calipari’s research explores how women’s hormones may make them more vulnerable to addiction and relapse

Erin Calipari (Photo by Larry McCormack, The Tennessean)

Erin Calipari is getting noticed, and no longer just because she’s the daughter of University of Kentuckycoach John Calipari. As a researcher at Vanderbilt University, she has “dedicated herself to making groundbreaking discoveries about women’s vulnerability to drug cravings and the immune system’s role in the fight against the opioid crisis,” reports Jessica Bliss of the Nashville Tennessean.

“When she was a girl, it used to bother her that people saw her only as the coach’s daughter,” Bliss writes. “Now she embraces the fact that she is the child of a man who leads one of the nation’s most successful college sports programs. She sees it as a platform to share important scientific breakthroughs with people who might not otherwise be paying attention.”

Addiction research has primarily focused on men, but “Calipari’s work changes that,” Bliss reports. “Her team has found ‘massive differences’ in what males and females value” when making decisions about whether to use a drug. “Her latest study found that, when fertility-related hormone levels are high, females . . . are more prone to seek rewards. That means women’s hormonal cycles may make them more prone to drug addiction and relapse.”

Calipari explains, “The hormonal cycle primes your brain to be more responsive to your environment. This is evolutionary, because, if you are more responsive, you are going to seek out rewarding environments and sexual experiences that propagate the species. That same process is hijacked by drugs. . . . And that makes women more vulnerable.”

Her father said on Twitter, “I’m very proud of her because she’s working on important stuff. Addiction and the effects, especially on women, is an epidemic.” In another tweet, he said, “She’s trying to bring light to a serious problem in our country. She’s on a great path to having an impact to improve lives.”
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