SAN MATEO, Calif. — Bay Area researchers probing the brain for genetic factors behind alcoholism found one more piece in the complex puzzle of the condition, according to a study published last week in a leading neurology journal.
Scientists with a research center run by the University of California-San Francisco found that a genetic variation, which produces lower-than-normal levels of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine, were strongly linked to impulsivity — one of the hallmarks of alcoholism.
"That's the major finding of this study," said Dr. Howard Fields, a neurologist and one of the study authors.
Fields works at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center, focused on the biological basis of alcohol and substance abuse. The article was published Wednesday in the Journal of Neuroscience.
"With this gene variation, you have almost double the chances of being impulsive," Fields said.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that induces pleasurable feelings, and is sometimes called "the courier of addiction," since many disorders, such as alcoholism and narcotics abuse, are linked to a powerful urge to create a "dopamine rush" by imbibing or injecting.
With this finding, neurologists can keep refining their targets for developing drugs that might ultimately help alcoholics kick the habit, Fields said.
"There won't be a pill that can cure alcoholism," Fields predicted. "But there will be a pill you can take that, in combination with psycho-social strategies (like Alcoholics Anonymous), will make alcoholism much more manageable."
But Stanton Peele, a New Jersey-based social psychologist and author of the 2007 book, "Addiction Proof Your Child," among several other books on addiction, noted that researchers have long sought in vain for an effective treatment for alcoholism and have few tools in their arsenal.
The paucity, he believes, is because value systems, not biological factors that lend themselves to medical treatment, largely determine why some people drink so heavily as to disrupt their lives.
source: Arizona Daily Star