Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Alcoholics' Children: Living With A Stacked Biochemical Deck

Date:
March 31, 1999
Source:
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Summary:
Children of alcoholics have an altered brain chemistry that appears to make them more likely to become alcoholics themselves, according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins scientists.

Children of alcoholics have an altered brain chemistry that appears to make them more likely to become alcoholics themselves, according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins scientists.

Using a drug-based technique that highlights differences in natural opioid activity in the brain, the researchers found such activity was significantly less in the young adults they studied from strongly alcoholic families.

"This is the first evidence that the brains of the non-alcoholic children of alcoholics differ in the activity of specific brain circuits most scientists link with alcoholism, and that those differences exist before the onset of heavy drinking," says neuroendocrinologist Gary S. Wand, M.D., who led a team of Hopkins researchers. The study was reported in the December Annals of General Psychiatry.

"This single difference in opioid activity may make people more vulnerable to alcoholism for two reasons," says Wand: "It alters the brain's reward/craving pathway and it also changes the brain's response to stress." Scientists have long suggested the reward pathway -- well-endowed with opioid receptors -- is key in alcoholism. "And we know that stress is involved in many kinds of drug-seeking behavior," he adds.

The difference could serve as a marker to predict family members at increased risk of alcoholism, Wand says.

The researchers compared 26 young adults with a strong family history of chronic drinking -- all had at least fathers who were alcoholics -- with 22 counterparts who had no such history. The scientists indirectly measured opioid activity in the brain by artificially blocking opioids in both groups with a drug called naloxone and then measuring the "downstream" effect on blood levels of cortisol, a hormone the body releases in response to stress. The differences in cortisol and, hence, in opioid activity between the two groups were significant.

By focusing on the brain chemistry of people related to alcoholics who've developed no alcohol problems themselves, Wand says, the research gets around a major bugaboo of research on that topic: how to find if abnormalities in the brains of alcoholics are built-in or if they come as a result of heavy drinking. "This study weighs in favor of the former."

The study also offers still another connection between brain chemistry and predisposition to alcoholism, says Wand: In elevated amounts, cortisol, the stress hormone, is thought to increase growth of the brain's reward system, making it easier for drugs of abuse to stimulate it. Cortisol is probably increased in those prone to alcoholism. "So someone who has a small drink would get a bigger reward from the overdeveloped system; the reward gets amplified," says Wand.

"These children of alcoholics may have a double-whammy," he says. "They have a flawed response to stress and additionally may have heightened drug rewards in the brain."

The research was funded by an NIH grant, by The Alcohol Medical Research Foundation, and by a gift from the Kenneth Lattman Foundation. Collaborators in the work are Samer El Deiry, M.D., Ph.D., Mary E. McCaul, Ph.d., Donald Hoover, Ph.D., and Deborah Mangold, M.A.

Related Web sites:

http://www.health.org

http://www.cesar.umd.edu/metnet/docs/alcohol.htm

--JHMI--

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions' news releases are available on a PRE-EMBARGOED basis on EurekAlert at http://www.eurekalert.org, Newswise at http://www.newswise.com and from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs' direct e-mail news release service. To enroll, call 410-955-4288 or send e-mail to bsimpkins@jhmi.edu.

On a POST-EMBARGOED basis find them at http://hopkins.med.jhu.edu, Quadnet at http://www.quad-net.com and ScienceDaily at http://www.sciencedaily.com.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. "Alcoholics' Children: Living With A Stacked Biochemical Deck." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/03/990330141757.htm>.
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. (1999, March 31). Alcoholics' Children: Living With A Stacked Biochemical Deck. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/03/990330141757.htm
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. "Alcoholics' Children: Living With A Stacked Biochemical Deck." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/03/990330141757.htm (accessed August 30, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

AFP (Aug. 29, 2014) Twenty college-age students are getting 100,000 dollars from a Silicon Valley leader and a chance to live in San Francisco in order to work on the start-up project of their dreams, but they have to quit school first. Duration: 02:20 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) A new study suggests babies develop language skills more quickly if their parents imitate the babies' sounds and expressions and talk to them often. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Electrical Stimulation Boosts Brain Function, Study Says

Electrical Stimulation Boosts Brain Function, Study Says

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) Researchers found an improvement in memory and learning function in subjects who received electric pulses to their brains. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) Scientists are tripping the elderly on purpose in a Chicago lab in an effort to better prevent seniors from falling and injuring themselves in real life. (Aug.28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins