Men May Be More Susceptible to Alcoholism Due to Increased Dopamine Release

Men are about twice as likely to develop an alcohol use disorder than women, and the reasons behind this have been a mystery to researchers. However, a new study discovered that dopamine may play an important role in men’s susceptibility to alcoholism.

Researchers from Columbia and Yale Universities examined male and female college-age individuals who drank socially. After having either an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink, each participant was given a specialized positron emission tomography (PET) scan, which can measure the amount of dopamine released as a result of alcohol consumption.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released in the brain following pleasurable activities such as having sex, using drugs, and eating delicious food. Even though the men drank the same amount of alcohol, they experienced higher levels of dopamine than the women in the study. The increase was found in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, which is associated with pleasure, reinforcement, and addiction.

Dr. Nina Urban, corresponding author of the study, said that the increased dopamine release in men was also more strongly associated with the subjective “positive” effects of alcohol. This could contributed to the reinforcing properties of alcohol and habit formation, which can lead to addiction.

Dr. Anissa Abi-Dargham, senior author of the study, said that they also found that there was a decline in alcohol-induced dopamine release as heavy drinking episodes increased. This could be a symptom of developing a tolerance to alcohol.

Source: Science Daily, Why Are Men More Susceptible to Alcoholism? It May Be in Their Dopamine, October 18, 2010

Posted on October 18th, 2010

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