New research helps explain why some teenagers are more prone to drinking alcohol than others. The study, led by King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) and published in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) provides the most detailed understanding yet of the brain processes involved in teenage alcohol abuse.
Alcohol and other addictive drugs activate the dopamine system in the brain which is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. Recent studies from King’s IoP found that the RASGRF2 gene is a risk gene for alcohol abuse, however, the exact mechanism involved in this process has, until now, remained unknown.
Professor Gunter Schumann, from the Department of Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) at King’s Institute of Psychiatry and lead author of the study says: “People seek out situations which fulfill their sense of reward and make them happy, so if your brain is wired to find alcohol rewarding, you will seek it out. We now understand the chain of action: how our genes shape this function in our brains and how that, in turn, leads to human behaviour. We found that the RASGRF-2 gene plays a crucial role in controlling how alcohol stimulates the brain to release dopamine, and hence trigger the feeling of reward. So, if people have a genetic variation of the RASGRF-2 gene, alcohol gives them a stronger sense of reward, making them more likely to be heavy drinkers.”
Approximately 6 out of 10 young people aged 11-15 in England report drinking, a figure which has remained relatively stable over the past 20 years. However, binge drinking has become more common, with teenagers reportedly drinking an average of 6 units per week in 1994 and 13 units per week in 2007. In the UK, around 5,000 teenagers are admitted to hospital every year for alcohol-related reasons. Teenage alcohol abuse is also linked to poor brain development, health problems in later life, risk taking behaviour (drunk driving, unsafe sex) and antisocial behaviour. Read More…
Source: King’s College London