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Brain Chemistry Linked to Who Drinks

Study found dopamine D2 receptors may provide protection against alcoholism

MONDAY, Sept. 4, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Differences in brain chemistry may help explain why some people with a strong family history of alcoholism don't become alcoholics while other people with the same high-risk background do become alcohol-dependent, says a U.S government study.

It found that elevated levels of D2 receptors for dopamine -- a chemical messenger in the brain's reward circuits -- may protect some people at high risk for developing alcoholism.

"Higher levels of dopamine D2 receptors may provide protection against alcoholism by triggering the brain circuits involved in inhibiting behavioral responses to the presence of alcohol," study author Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a prepared statement.

"This means that treatment strategies for alcoholism that increase dopamine D2 receptors could be beneficial for at-risk individuals," Volkow said.

Using brain scans, she and her colleagues detected high levels of dopamine D2 receptors in 15 people who weren't alcoholics, but had a family history of alcoholism. The high levels of dopamine D2 receptors were particularly evident in the frontal regions of the brain, which are involved in emotional reactions to stress and cognitive control of decisions about drinking.

The findings were published in the September issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study also provides new information about the association between emotional attributes and brain function.

More information

The American Medical Association has more about alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Energy/Brookhaven National Laboratory, news release, Sept. 4, 2006
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