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New Discoveries Regarding Alcohol Abuse

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Alcohol Abuse

Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine have made new discoveries about alcohol abuse. It seems that the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, is related to the taste of beer, without the intoxicating effect of alcohol, as previously thought. The study was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology and demonstrates that alcohol abuse could be caused by some inherited risk factors.

Neuroscientists conducted a study that assessed the level of dopamine in the brain to certain substances. The study included 49 participants who were evaluated twice using positron emission tomography (PET). First they tracked dopamine levels after participants have tasted beer and then they evaluated the dopamine levels after participants have tasted Gatorade. Participants received a low dose of beer (15 mg each of their favorite beer) that tasted over 15 minutes so that no traces of detectable blood alcohol result. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that has many roles in the brain and is released after ingestion of alcohol or drugs. Dopamine levels in the brain was detected using PET scanning, which is a medical imaging technique that uses a tracer (positron-emitting radionuclide).

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It has been shown that dopamine levels are much higher after ingestion of beer than after ingestion of Gatorade. Also, it seems that the level of this neurotransmitter is much higher in subjects with a family history of alcoholism.
David A. Kareken, Ph.D., professor of neurology at the IU School of Medicine and the deputy director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center, said this is the first experiment that demonstrates that the taste of beer, without the intoxicating effect of alcohol, may cause the release of increased amounts of dopamine. The fact that dopamine was released in higher amounts in participants with a family history of alcoholism shows that there is a genetic risk factor for this kind of abuse. “We believe this is the first experiment in humans to show that the taste of an alcoholic drink alone, without any intoxicating effect from the alcohol, can elicit this dopamine activity in the brain’s reward centers,” he added.

However this is not the first study to show that dopamine is linked to drug abuse. Mechanism of dopamine release and its role in certain brain regions underlies therapies for recovering alcoholics. The researchers mentioned that the participants had higher craving after tasting beer. But not the same thing happened after they tasted the sport drink, even though many were believed that Gatorade actually tasted better than beer.