A genetic influence on alcohol addiction found - lack of endorphin

The research reveals that a subject's brain with low beta-endorphin levels becomes accustomed to the presence of an exogenous surplus, diminishing its own supply and triggering dependence on an external source--in this case, alcohol.

According to a study by the research group "Alcoholism and drug addiction", of the University of Granada, although there are no specific reasons to become alcoholic, many social, family, environmental, and genetic factors may contribute to its development. Thanks to this study, researchers have shown that the lack of endorphin is hereditary, and thus that there is a genetic predisposition to become addicted to alcohol.

Beta-endorphin is a kind of “morphine” released by the brain in response to several situations, such as pain. In this way, beta-endorphins can be considered “endogenous analgesics” to numb or dull pains.

Researchers have focused on the low beta-endorphin levels in chronic alcohol abusers. According to José Rico Irles , professor of Medicine of the UGR, and head of the research group, this low beta-endorphin level determines whether someone may become an alcoholic. When a subjects' brain with low beta-endorphin levels gets used to the presence of an exogenous surplus, then, when its own production stops, a dependence starts on the external source: alcohol.

Who may become and alcohol abuser?

A total of 200 families of the province of Granada participated in the research. There was at least one chronic alcoholic parent in each family. From birth, each subject presented predetermined beta-endorphin levels. However, children of this population group aged between 6 months and 10 years old, registered lower beta-endorphin levels than other children of the same age. ”These levels were even lower in children whose both parents were alcohol abusers”, the researcher states.

According to researcher, although alcohol consumption does not affect all people in the same way, differences in endorphin levels make some subjects more vulnerable to alcohol. Therefore, they are more likely to become alcohol dependent.

Beta-endorphins constitute a useful biological marker to identify specifically those subjects who have a higher risk of developing alcohol abuse, the research claims.

Regarding the results of this study, professor Rico states the following: “alcohol-abuse prevention must consist of locating and identifying genetically predisposed subjects.” More campaigns for children and teenagers should be launched before these young people make contact with alcohol. Alcohol awareness is fundamental to prevent addiction, the researcher affirms, because alcohol is a drug with reversible effects up to a point.

In relation to the “botellón culture” (Botellón is a Spanish custom in which young people congregate in a park, street or any open public place to share alcoholic drinks and converse before entering bars, nightclubs, discos, etc.), José Rico states that some of these “social drinkers” could have low beta-endorphin levels and, therefore, a higher predisposition to become “solitary drinkers” and to develop alcohol abuse.


  1. vincent vincent United Kingdom says:

    I dont doubt that scientists who have studied alcoholism have done extensive research but there's always the danger that people who have any form of addiction will blame their genetics or society for their problems. It's the same with those who blame crime on poverty ignoring the fact that not all lawbreakers were born poor and not all poorer people commit crime. From personal experience of having seen alcoholism in my family when growing up, I would say that children of alcoholics would probably take more care to avoid the same path. I drink occasionally but have it under control.

  2. Allie Brandon Allie Brandon   says:

    If you had worked in the field and seen the horrors of addiction, I have seen you might began to understand that addiction is a disease of medical as well as terrible abuse as children and no learning skills for children who grow up in this nightmare you might began to understand, but it seems like you just want to blow it off....Nancy Reagan's, Just say no....makes me want to cry and scream. Hope you
    will take the time to know a little bit more about your subject!! Becky

  3. Ellen Ellen United States says:

    I'm a recovered alcoholic who has been sober 17 years. Having lived on both sides of addiction, this study makes complete sense to me. I feel healthiest when I exercise -- in fact, physical exertion has been one of the most important parts of my recovery. Funny how people with no actual life experience like to share their ridiculous opinions. Ha. (But seriously, Vincent, call me if you have any investment advice.)

  4. Autumn Autumn United States says:

    There will always be doubters when science establishes links between our chemistry and our behavior. A friend of mine once insisted that people suicidal tendencies were selfish and just not trying hard enough. What can you do? Some prefer uninformed intuition.

    But discoveries like this could mean real freedom for people suffering from addiction of all stripes, as recovery could incorporate normalizing beta endorphin levels. It may help us understand why some are able to engage in risky or addictive behaviors without harm, while others tend to spiral out of control. It could one day possibly predict, in a very broad sense, the likelihood of an individual losing control with addictive substances. All speculation, true, but it will be very interesting to see where it takes us.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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