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Alcoholism Tied to Over Reactive Brain Dopamine System

Update Date: Aug 03, 2013 11:18 AM EDT
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Although a lot of people turn to alcohol to ease their sorrows, pains and problems, there are a select few who end up relying on alcohol on a daily basis. These people start to develop alcoholism and soon enough, this toxic substance ruins their entire life. Due to the fact that some people never go down this road while others succumb to it, researchers have been interested in studying why that is the case. According to a new study, researchers from McGill University believe that alcoholism could be tied to the brain's dopamine system.

For this study, the head researcher, Professor Marco Leyton from the University's Department of Psychiatry looked at 26 healthy adults who were classified as social drinkers between the ages of 18 and 30. 18 of them were men and eight of them were women all from the Montreal area. The researchers used personality traits and alcohol tolerance to determine which participants were high risk for alcoholism. The researchers had the participants gulped down three drinks in 15 minutes. The drinks were either juice or alcohol. The participants then had two positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans.

The researchers discovered that the group of people they had classified as high risk had hyperactive brain dopamine systems. This means that the people in the high risk group experienced more pleasure from drinking alcohol in comparison to people in the low risk group. The researchers believe that this finding could provide more insight in understanding why certain people develop alcoholism.

"This large response might energize reward-seeking behaviors and counteract the sedative effects of alcohol. Conversely, people who experience minimal dopamine release when they drink might find the sedative effects of alcohol especially pronounced," Dr. Leyton said. "People with loved ones struggling with alcoholism often want to know two things: How did they develop this problem? And what can be done to help? 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."

The study was published in the journal, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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