“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.

A Family History of Alcoholism Changes the Brain’s Reward System

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.

Call for free Family intervention Assessment.