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Exploring the brain chemistry of people at risk for alcohol disorders

rength, of the AMS, which is critical for learning to avoid unpleasant experiences and behavior that leads to unpleasant experiences or negative outcomes. Excessive alcohol use is associated with a variety of negative outcomes, such as problems with the law, in relationships, at work, and with physical and psychological health."

"All drugs stimulate the brain's dopamine system," added Lovallo. "A simple version of the story is that dopamine outputs to the amygdala may affect how it tells the rest of our brain to respond to the positive and negative pictures we used. If this speculation is true, it gives us additional insights into the way that the brain's dopamine system is altered in persons at high risk for alcoholism. For example, if this system is not working properly, a release of dopamine following alcohol intake may result in greater positive feelings for such persons. It may act to improve or stabilize their mood, at least early in the process of becoming dependent. So, the brain alterations we are tapping in this study may tell us about how mood differences are related to the elevated risk for future alcoholism that is present in offspring of alcoholics."

"It is critical that researchers find out if this pattern of reduced responsiveness to aversive stimuli actually predicts the development of alcohol problems," said Finn. "One approach is to see whether young individuals such as young teens who show hyporesponsiveness are more likely to develop alcohol problems compared with those who do not show this trait. In addition, it is important to determine whether it is specifically parental alcoholism that is associated with hyporesponsiveness to aversive stimulation and not some other characteristic of the parent. For instance, alcoholic parents often suffer from depression or have antisocial personality disorder, both of which are associated with disturbances in emotion-modulated startle."

Lovallo and his colleagues next plan to
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15-Apr-2002


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