Using brain activity to identify risk for disorders

who had the lowest P300 amplitudes. Our study showed that the effects of alcoholism vulnerability on P300 amplitude wiped out or dominated the effect of anxiety vulnerability on P300 amplitude. It is often thought that people with anxiety disorders are more susceptible to alcoholism as they might tend to 'self-medicate'. However, our results suggest that P300 amplitude may distinguish which anxious individuals are vulnerable to becoming alcoholic."

"There are many different ways that someone can be at risk for developing alcoholism," concurred Cindy L. Ehlers, associate professor of neuropharmacology at The Scripps Research Institute, "and one of them is to have an anxiety disorder. Alcohol is an anxiolytic (or anti-anxiety) agent. People who have anxiety can get relief from drinking. In fact, this is referred to as 'relief drinking.' While it may seem confusing that the group with both alcoholism and anxiety disorders have the lowest P300 amplitudes, it's entirely plausible that someone with an anxiety disorder who does not develop alcoholism may have protective factors against the development of alcoholism that mediate their high risk. In other words, having a higher P300 may be a measure of a protective factor." Which, alternately, means that having the lowest P300 may indicate the most severe of risk factors. Either perspective both supports and extends P300 research that began in the early 1980s.

An individual's electroencephalogram (EEG) - a recording of the continuous electrical activity going on in a person's brain - is like a distinctive fingerprint. Even when we're unaware of it, our brains are constantly on the alert for new stimuli or unusual changes in our immediate environment. If, for example, we are listening to the sound of rain and a clap of thunder interrupts, our brain will respond by producing a very brief electrical wave in our EEG. This is called an event-related potential (ERP). The maximum amplitud


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