Why Some Are More Susceptible to Alcohol Addiction: A New Study

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Why some individuals become addicted to alcohol while others do not may be partly the result of each brain’s unique dopamine reaction to alcohol, according to the finding of a recent study at McGill University. The research shows that people at high risk for addiction have brains that respond to alcohol by releasing a large amount of dopamine in pathways related to reward and pleasure. “There is accumulating evidence that there are multiple pathways to alcoholism, each associated with a distinct set of personality traits and neurobiological features,” said Professor Marco Leyton, author of the research. “Our study suggests that a tendency to experience a large dopamine response when drinking alcohol might contribute to one (or more) of these pathways.”
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About the Research

The Study Setup

  1. The study subjects were 26 social drinkers, 18 to 30 years old and in good health. There were 18 men and eight women.
  2. Those at higher-risk for alcohol addiction were identified based on personality traits and their low intoxication response to alcohol (did not feel as drunk after consuming the same amount of alcohol).
  3. Each subject had two PET brain scans, one after drinking fruit juice and the other after consuming about three alcoholic drinks within 15 minutes.

The Study Results

  1. Those earlier identified as being at higher-risk for addiction showed unusually large dopamine responses after drinking alcohol.
  2. Researchers believe receiving a big blast of dopamine may counteract the sedative effect of alcohol and excite reward-seeking behaviors. This pleasurable response makes it more likely that the individual will reach for a second drink, and then a third.
  3. Those who have smaller dopamine responses to alcohol are more likely to experience the sedative effects of drinking alcohol. A less pleasurable response means they are less likely to want a second or third drink.
“People with a loved one struggling with alcoholism often want to know two things: How did they develop this problem? And what can be done to help?” said Leyton. “Our study helps us answer the first question by furthering our understanding of the causes of addictions. This is an important step toward developing treatments and preventing the disorder in others.” Source: Science Daily
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