People with family history of alcoholism release more dopamine in expectation of alcohol

May 23, 2018, Elsevier
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

People with a family history of alcohol use disorder (AUD) release more dopamine in the brain's main reward center in response to the expectation of alcohol than people diagnosed with the disorder, or healthy people without any family history of AUD, reports a new study in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

"This exaggerated reward center stimulation by expectation of alcohol may put the [individuals with ] at greater risk of , and could be a risk factor in itself," said first author Lawrence Kegeles, MD, Ph.D., of Columbia University.

The study examined a range of risk for AUD, including 34 healthy participants with no family history of AUD, 16 healthy participants with a family history of the disorder (referred to as the family-history positive, or FHP, group), and 15 participants diagnosed with AUD. Dr. Kegeles and colleagues used PET brain scanning to measure the amount of release in areas of the brain important for reward and addiction. The participants underwent the brain scans after receiving either an alcohol drink—a cocktail of vodka, tonic, and cranberry—or a placebo drink without the vodka. Although the participants didn't know the order in which they would receive the drinks, if they received the placebo drink first they were cued into expecting the alcohol drink next.

All three groups had similar dopamine release-levels in response to the alcohol, suggesting that alcohol-induced dopamine release is normal in AUD. However, "we found that the FHP participants had a much more pronounced response to the placebo drink than the other groups, indicating that expectation of alcohol caused the FHP group to release more reward center dopamine," said Dr. Kegeles. The release of dopamine into the is thought to reinforce consumption and possibly contribute to risk of AUD.

"This research finding exemplifies how advances in imaging brain chemistry using PET scanning can provide new insights into how differences in brain function in people with a family history of alcoholism can explain their own potential for addiction," said Cameron Carter, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

The study did not follow the participants to determine whether the exaggerated dopamine response actually predicted development of AUD at a higher rate, so more studies will be needed to determine if this abnormality really does increase risk of the disorder.

Explore further: Head injury does not worsen drinking behavior in heavy drinkers

More information: Lawrence S. Kegeles et al, Enhanced Striatal Dopamine Release to Expectation of Alcohol: A Potential Risk Factor for Alcohol Use Disorder, Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2018.03.018

Related Stories

Head injury does not worsen drinking behavior in heavy drinkers

November 15, 2017
Head injury, which often damages brain regions overlapping with those involved in addictive behaviors, does not worsen drinking behavior in people with heavy alcohol use, according to a new study published in Biological Psychiatry: ...

Taste of beer, without effect from alcohol, triggers dopamine release in the brain

April 15, 2013
The taste of beer, without any effect from alcohol itself, can trigger dopamine release in the brain, which is associated with drinking and other drugs of abuse, according to Indiana University School of Medicine researchers.

Magnetic stimulation dampens brain response to drug cues in addiction

May 15, 2018
In a study investigating the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for drug addiction, researchers at Medical University of South Carolina are the first to demonstrate that the noninvasive brain stimulation technique ...

One step closer to a new drug for alcohol dependence

October 14, 2015
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet and the Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden might be one step closer to finding an effective drug for alcohol dependence. In two separate studies, they show that the dopamine stabilizer OSU6162 ...

Alcoholism could be linked to a hyper-active brain dopamine system

August 2, 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 ...

Brain scans show why people get aggressive after a drink or two

February 12, 2018
Researchers have used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans that measure blood flow in the brain to better understand why people often become aggressive and violent after drinking alcohol. After only two drinks, the researchers ...

Recommended for you

In depression the brain region for stress control is larger

September 20, 2018
Although depression is one of the leading psychiatric disorders in Germany, its cause remains unclear. A recent study at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig, Germany, found ...

Quitting junk food produces similar withdrawal-type symptoms as drug addiction

September 20, 2018
If you plan to try and quit junk food, expect to suffer similar withdrawal-type symptoms—at least during the initial week—like addicts experience when they attempt to quit using drugs.

American girls read and write better than boys

September 20, 2018
As early as the fourth grade, girls perform better than boys on standardized tests in reading and writing, and as they get older that achievement gap widens even more, according to research published by the American Psychological ...

Mindfulness meditation: 10 minutes a day improves cognitive function

September 19, 2018
Practising mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes a day improves concentration and the ability to keep information active in one's mind, a function known as "working memory". The brain achieves this by becoming more efficient, ...

People can handle the truth (more than you think)

September 19, 2018
Most people value the moral principle of honesty. At the same time, they frequently avoid being honest with people in their everyday lives. Who hasn't told a fib or half-truth to get through an awkward social situation or ...

The 'real you' is a myth – we constantly create false memories to achieve the identity we want

September 19, 2018
We all want other people to "get us" and appreciate us for who we really are. In striving to achieve such relationships, we typically assume that there is a "real me". But how do we actually know who we are? It may seem simple ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.