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Alcoholism could be linked to a hyper-active brain dopamine system
Date:8/9/2013

Research from McGill University suggests that people who are vulnerable to developing alcoholism exhibit a distinctive brain response when drinking alcohol, according to a new study by Prof. Marco Leyton, of McGill University's Department of Psychiatry. Compared to people at low risk for alcohol-use problems, those at high risk showed a greater dopamine response in a brain pathway that increases desire for rewards. These findings, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, could help shed light on why some people are more at risk of suffering from alcoholism and could mark an important step toward the development of treatment options.

"There is accumulating evidence that there are multiple pathways to alcoholism, each associated with a distinct set of personality traits and neurobiological features", said Prof. Leyton, a researcher in the Mental Illness and Addiction axis at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC). "These individual differences likely influence a wide range of behaviors, both positive and problematic. Our study suggests that a tendency to experience a large dopamine response when drinking alcohol might contribute to one (or more) of these pathways."

For the study, researchers recruited 26 healthy social drinkers (18 men, 8 women), 18 to 30 years of age, from the Montreal area. The higher-risk subjects were then identified based on personality traits and having a lower intoxication response to alcohol (they did not feel as drunk despite having drunk the same amount). Finally, each participant underwent two positron emission tomography (PET) brain scan exams after drinking either juice or alcohol (about 3 drinks in 15 minutes).

"We found that people vulnerable to developing alcoholism experienced an unusually large brain dopamine response when they took a drink," said Leyton. "This large response might energize reward-seeking behaviors and counteract t
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Contact: Cynthia Lee
cynthia.lee@mcgill.ca
514-398-6754
McGill University
Source:Eurekalert

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