Why are men more susceptible to alcoholism?

October 18, 2010

Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances, and men are up to twice as likely to develop alcoholism as women. Until now, the underlying biology contributing to this difference in vulnerability has remained unclear.

A new study published in reveals that dopamine may be an important factor.

Researchers from Columbia and Yale studied male and female college-age social drinkers in a laboratory test of . After consuming an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink, each participant underwent a specialized positron (PET) scan, an imaging technique that can measure the amount of alcohol-induced dopamine release.

Dopamine has multiple functions in the brain, but is important in this context because of its pleasurable effects when it is released by rewarding experiences, such as sex or drugs.

Despite similar consumptions of alcohol, the men had greater dopamine release than women. This increase was found in the ventral striatum, an area in the brain strongly associated with pleasure, reinforcement and addiction formation.

"In men, increased dopamine release also had a stronger association with subjective positive effects of ," explained Dr. Nina Urban, corresponding author for this study. "This may contribute to the initial reinforcing properties of alcohol and the risk for habit formation."

Dr. Anissa Abi-Dargham, senior author on this project, notes that "another important observation from this study is the decline in alcohol-induced dopamine release with repeated heavy drinking episodes. This may be one of the hallmarks of developing tolerance or transitioning into habit."

These findings indicate that the ability of alcohol to stimulate release may play an important and complex role in its rewarding effects and abuse liability in humans. This identification of an in vivo neurochemical mechanism that could help explain the sex difference in alcoholism is an exciting step forward in alcoholism research.

More information: "Sex Differences in Striatal Dopamine Release in Young Adults After Oral Alcohol Challenge: A Positron Emission Tomography Imaging Study With [11C]Raclopride" by Nina B.L. Urban et al. The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 68, Issue 8 (October 15, 2010).

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6 comments

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Brad_Hobbs
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 18, 2010
Women?
Modernmystic
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 18, 2010
Alcoholism, and all addiction in general isn't a disease...it's a symptom.

My guess is that generally we're under more stress...wether it be because of the nature of society or we have less effective coping mechanisms than women do.

Maybe we should blather on for hours to each other about the meaningless details of our days. Probably works better than a six pack.
Corban
not rated yet Oct 18, 2010
80% of women who've ever lived have living descendants. Only 40% of men ever do. So yeah, I'd say that there is considerable pressure to justify one's existence with progeny.
ArtflDgr
1 / 5 (1) Oct 18, 2010
For the same reason lesbians do...

relationships with women, and helplessness enduced by the state, means nothing to do but kill time in a way that one doesnt dwell... and sometimes, not being able to think is the only way to stop dwelling
CarolinaScotsman
5 / 5 (1) Oct 18, 2010
The discovery/invention of alcohol production dates back over seven thousand years. We have been evolving to use alcohol as a stress mediator for seven thousand years. For most of that time, the potency of the alcoholic beverages was rather low so that we became used to "theraputic doses" that are relatively small. As we up the dosage, the side effects increase and become more severe. We have evolved to depend on alcohol, now we need to learn how to live with it.
paulthebassguy
not rated yet Oct 18, 2010
80% of women who've ever lived have living descendants. Only 40% of men ever do.


That is an interesting statistic - do you have a reference?

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