brain_sketchA new study published by Canadian scientists suggests that alcohol addiction could be linked to the brain’s internal reward system.

Professor Marco Leyton and his team at McGill University, Montreal, are researching if individuals who are vulnerable to alcoholism experience an abnormally large response in the brain’s reward-seeking pathways when they drink. The research suggests that compared to people who are less vulnerable to alcoholism, high-risk men and women showed a greater dopamine response in the brain, increasing the desire for reward.

Groundbreaking Research.

Professor Leyton said: “A large body of research has implicated a role for dopamine in reward-seeking behaviours in general.

“For example, in both laboratory animals and people, increased dopamine transmission seems to enhance the ability of reward-related stimuli to grab attention and attract you. This effect likely contributes to why having one drink increases the probability of getting a second one – the alcohol-induced dopamine response makes the second drink look all the more desirable.”

For the study the team recruited 26 healthy social drinkers aged between 18 and 30. Eight of the study participants were female and 18 were male, and all of them were from the Montreal area.

Higher-risk subjects were identified using a combination of personality traits and a reduced intoxication response to alcohol consumption (i.e. feeling less inebriated despite drinking the same amount).

Genetics?

This latest research may offer insight into how to treat addiction in the future and suggests that some people may be more vulnerable to alcoholism than others due to genetics and their physiology.

Professor 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.”

This study was funded by McGill University and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). To contact the researcher directly: marco.leyton@mcgill.ca

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