Exploring the brain chemistry of people at risk for alcohol disorders

  • Children of alcoholics (COAs) tend to exhibit attention deficit disorder, hyperactive tendencies, rule breaking, and poor response to discipline.
  • Adult COAs tend to exhibit poor impulse control, antisocial tendencies and sensation seeking.
  • A new study has found that young adult COAs have a different emotional response to environmental cues than do individuals without a family history of alcoholism.
  • These findings may demonstrate underlying differences in brain chemistry and physiology.

Research overwhelmingly indicates that children of alcoholics are more likely to develop significant alcohol problems, such as abuse or dependence, than will children of non-alcoholics. It is also well documented that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to this increased risk. Genetic or inherited factors include biologically rooted behavioral tendencies and self-regulation. For example, individuals with a family history of alcoholism tend to exhibit poor impulse control, antisocial tendencies and sensation seeking. A study in the April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found that individuals with a positive history of alcoholism have a different emotional response to environmental cues than do individuals with a negative family history of alcoholism.

"Persons at high risk for alcoholism, because they have a father with alcohol abuse or dependence in his past," explained William R. Lovallo, Director of the Behavioral Sciences Laboratories at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Oklahoma City and corresponding author for the study, "are different from low-risk persons in how they respond to the emotional content of events in their immediate environment. This difference in emotional responsiveness may tell us something about how the increased risk of alcoholism is related to the functioning of the brain systems that allow us to experience events and respond to them."

Lovallo noted


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