New research may shed light on alcohol addiction vulnerability in some people

Published on March 27, 2013 at 4:12 AM · No Comments

A Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center team studying alcohol addiction has new research that might shed light on why some drinkers are more susceptible to addiction than others.

Jeff Weiner, Ph.D., professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest Baptist, and colleagues used an animal model to look at the early stages of the addiction process and focused on how individual animals responded to alcohol. Their findings may lead not only to a better understanding of addiction, but to the development of better drugs to treat the disease as well, Weiner said.

"We know that some people are much more vulnerable to alcoholism than others, just like some people have a vulnerability to cancer or heart disease," Weiner said. "We don't have a good understanding of what causes this vulnerability, and that's a big question. But if we can figure it out, we may be able to better identify people at risk, as well as gain important clues to help develop better drugs to treat the disease."

The findings are published in the March 13 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. Weiner, who directs the Translational Studies on Early-Life Stress and Vulnerability to Alcohol Addiction project at Wake Forest Baptist, said the study protocol was developed by the first author of the paper, Karina Abrahao, a graduate student visiting from the collaborative lab of Sougza-Formigoni, Ph.D, of the Department of Psychobiology at the Federal University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Weiner said the study model focused on how individual animals responded to alcohol. Typically, when a drug like alcohol is given to a mouse every day, the way the animals respond increases - they become more stimulated and run around more. "In high doses, alcohol is a depressant, but in low doses, it can have a mellowing effect that results in greater activity," he said. "Those low dose effects tend to increase over time and this increase in activity in response to repeated alcohol exposure is called locomotor sensitization."

Prior studies with other drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamine, have suggested that animals that show the greatest increases in locomotor sensitization are also the animals most likely to seek out or consume these drugs. However, the relationship between locomotor sensitization and vulnerability to high levels of alcohol drinking is not as well established, Weiner said.

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