Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Thwarting alcoholism in the brain

In Brief

Thwarting alcoholism in the brain

A brain imaging study shows that high levels of a nerve receptor for the chemical messenger dopamine may help prevent children of alcoholics from developing alcohol problems themselves.

Fifteen people who did not abuse alcohol but had a high rate of alcoholism in their families — at least three relatives including the father — were compared with 16 controls who had no family history of alcoholism. Most were in their early 20s.

The subjects with a family history of alcoholism had high levels of working receptors of the type known as dopamine D2 in the caudate and ventral striatum, parts of the brain's reward system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released during and in anticipation of a rewarding experience.

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