Why are men more susceptible to alcoholism?

Oct 18, 2010

Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances, and men are up to twice as likely to develop alcoholism as women. Until now, the underlying biology contributing to this difference in vulnerability has remained unclear.

A new study published in reveals that dopamine may be an important factor.

Researchers from Columbia and Yale studied male and female college-age social drinkers in a laboratory test of . After consuming an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink, each participant underwent a specialized positron (PET) scan, an imaging technique that can measure the amount of alcohol-induced dopamine release.

Dopamine has multiple functions in the brain, but is important in this context because of its pleasurable effects when it is released by rewarding experiences, such as sex or drugs.

Despite similar consumptions of alcohol, the men had greater dopamine release than women. This increase was found in the ventral striatum, an area in the brain strongly associated with pleasure, reinforcement and addiction formation.

"In men, increased dopamine release also had a stronger association with subjective positive effects of ," explained Dr. Nina Urban, corresponding author for this study. "This may contribute to the initial reinforcing properties of alcohol and the risk for habit formation."

Dr. Anissa Abi-Dargham, senior author on this project, notes that "another important observation from this study is the decline in alcohol-induced dopamine release with repeated heavy drinking episodes. This may be one of the hallmarks of developing tolerance or transitioning into habit."

These findings indicate that the ability of alcohol to stimulate release may play an important and complex role in its rewarding effects and abuse liability in humans. This identification of an in vivo neurochemical mechanism that could help explain the sex difference in alcoholism is an exciting step forward in alcoholism research.

Explore further: Missing protein restored in patients with muscular dystrophy

More information: "Sex Differences in Striatal Dopamine Release in Young Adults After Oral Alcohol Challenge: A Positron Emission Tomography Imaging Study With [11C]Raclopride" by Nina B.L. Urban et al. The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 68, Issue 8 (October 15, 2010).

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Receptor variant influences dopamine response to alcohol

May 18, 2010

A genetic variant of a receptor in the brain's reward circuitry plays an important role in determining whether the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in the brain following alcohol intake, according to a study led by researchers ...

Brain Dopamine Receptor Density Correlates with Social Status

Feb 03, 2010

People have typically viewed the benefits that accrue with social status primarily from the perspective of external rewards. A new paper in the February 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry suggests that there are internal reward ...

Gene therapy reduces cocaine use in rats

Apr 16, 2008

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have shown that increasing the brain level of receptors for dopamine, a pleasure-related chemical, can reduce use of cocaine by 75 percent in rats ...

Research shows a link between alcoholism and memory

Sep 10, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- A University of Sussex leading expert on the psychological effects of drinking told an audience at the BA Festival of Science this week that the effect alcohol has on memory could contribute to alcoholism.

Recommended for you

Student seeks to improve pneumonia vaccines

7 hours ago

Almost a million Americans fall ill with pneumonia each year. Nearly half of these cases require hospitalization, and 5-7 percent are fatal. Current vaccines provide protection against some strains of the ...

Seabed solution for cold sores

8 hours ago

The blue blood of abalone, a seabed delicacy could be used to combat common cold sores and related herpes virus following breakthrough research at the University of Sydney.

Better living through mitochondrial derived vesicles

Aug 19, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—As principal transformers of bacteria, organelles, synapses, and cells, vesicles might be said to be the stuff of life. One need look no further than the rapid rise to prominence of The ...

Zebrafish help to unravel Alzheimer's disease

Aug 19, 2014

New fundamental knowledge about the regulation of stem cells in the nerve tissue of zebrafish embryos results in surprising insights into neurodegenerative disease processes in the human brain. A new study by scientists at ...

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Brad_Hobbs
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 18, 2010
Women?
Modernmystic
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 18, 2010
Alcoholism, and all addiction in general isn't a disease...it's a symptom.

My guess is that generally we're under more stress...wether it be because of the nature of society or we have less effective coping mechanisms than women do.

Maybe we should blather on for hours to each other about the meaningless details of our days. Probably works better than a six pack.
Corban
not rated yet Oct 18, 2010
80% of women who've ever lived have living descendants. Only 40% of men ever do. So yeah, I'd say that there is considerable pressure to justify one's existence with progeny.
ArtflDgr
1 / 5 (1) Oct 18, 2010
For the same reason lesbians do...

relationships with women, and helplessness enduced by the state, means nothing to do but kill time in a way that one doesnt dwell... and sometimes, not being able to think is the only way to stop dwelling
CarolinaScotsman
5 / 5 (1) Oct 18, 2010
The discovery/invention of alcohol production dates back over seven thousand years. We have been evolving to use alcohol as a stress mediator for seven thousand years. For most of that time, the potency of the alcoholic beverages was rather low so that we became used to "theraputic doses" that are relatively small. As we up the dosage, the side effects increase and become more severe. We have evolved to depend on alcohol, now we need to learn how to live with it.
paulthebassguy
not rated yet Oct 18, 2010
80% of women who've ever lived have living descendants. Only 40% of men ever do.


That is an interesting statistic - do you have a reference?