Scientists Trying to Identify Why Certain People Become Alcoholics

People who have below-normal responses to alcohol are more likely to become alcoholics, according to a new study from the University of California at San Diego.

“If you are not able to recognize the effects of lower doses of alcohol, you are more likely to drink heavy amounts per occasion, which can both directly and indirectly increase your risk for alcohol problems,” according to lead author, Dr. Marc Schuckit, a professor of psychiatry.

The research team is trying to understand how genetics influence individual responses to alcohol, and why some people develop alcohol abuse disorders, and yet others can drink in a moderate way that is even beneficial to health. The answer seems to stem from small differences within the brain that affect individual responses to alcohol.

The team administered mental tests on people who were high or low responders to alcohol. While their brains were being monitored through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology, some participants drank fake shots of alcohol, and others got the real thing. The team found that the brains of people who have low responses to alcohol actually function differently from those who do not have that genetic trait even when they are not drinking.

Another new study of alcohol looked at the effect of the substance on the human immune system. Researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia found that if they blocked an immune element in the brains of mice, either by using drugs or genetic engineering, alcohol would affect the mice differently. Author and professor Mark Hutchinson said that the study could help identify people prone to alcoholism.