Alcohol, stress, a family history of alcoholism, and the β-endorphin system

However, in subjects without a family history of alcoholism, alcohol dependence induces a decrease of the activity of pituitary β-endorphin, as indicated by the lower basal plasma β-endorphin levels and the lower β-endorphin response to stress." In other words, said Gianoulakis, in high-risk individuals, dysfunction in the activity of the pituitary β-endorphin system predates the development of alcoholism; while in low-risk individuals, dysfunction develops following alcohol dependence.

"The second important finding is that when participants of all four groups ingested a small amount of alcohol, the equivalent of about two standard drinks, the stress task performed 30 minutes after the drink did not increase the release of β-endorphin," said Gianoulakis. "Thus, prior alcohol consumption blocked or decreased the β-endorphin response to stress regardless of family history of alcoholism and presence of alcohol dependence."

Gianoulakis added it was important to note that stress dysfunction can both act as a mediator of alcohol dependence and occur as a consequence of alcohol dependence. "The major objective of a biological response to stress is to help that individual cope with a stressful situation," she said. "A low response to stress may compromise an individual's ability to cope, so that he or she feels the need to search for alternative ways to cope with stress, one of which could be drinking, eventually leading to alcohol dependence. Conversely, we also found that alcohol dependence can induce a decrease of the β-endorphin response to stress in individuals without a family history of alcoholism, eventually compromising their responses to stress and his or her ability to cope with stressful situations. They may cope with subsequent stress by increasing alcohol consumption, which not only prevents recovery of the stress response but may also induce a further dysfunction of the


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