“This exaggerated reward center stimulation by expectation of alcohol may put the [individuals with family history] at greater risk of alcohol use disorder and could be a risk factor in itself.”
Dr. Lawrence Kegeles, MD, Ph.D., Columbia University
In a brand-new study published in late May 2018, researchers at Columbia University have discovered that healthy individuals who have a family history of alcohol abuse release an excessive amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine when they expect an alcoholic drink.
Dopamine is associated with pleasure, reward, learning, and motivation. Because of this, it plays a key role in the development of Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) such as alcoholism or drug addiction.
Now, it’s not surprising that people with an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) had a heightened reward response when they are expecting to drink. But what IS surprising is the fact that non-alcohol-abusing people with a family AUD history released even more dopamine than current alcohol addicts without such a history.
In other words, just the expectation of taking a drink triggers a pleasurable response.
These findings highlight two things –
FIRST – Science continues to demonstrate that the impact that genetics has on addiction. Up to 60% of a person’s vulnerability to SUD is directly attributable to biology.
SECOND – These findings also show the dramatic effect that alcohol abuse has on the human brain, even across generations. In every sense of the word, alcoholism is a family disease.
These findings have promising implications. Dr. Cameron Carter, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, says, “This research finding exemplifies how advances in imaging brain chemistry…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.”
If you have a family history of alcoholism and/or drug addiction, and you are worried about your own usage habits, Lasting Recovery – a premier outpatient drug and alcohol rehab program in San Diego – can help by using evidence-based and wellness-treatment strategies.