Researchers have studied the processes in the brains of adolescents with alcohol dependence, and have drawn conclusions that help explain why some young people are more likely to drink.
The study found that a gene known as RASGRF-2 plays an important role in controlling how alcohol stimulates the brain to release satisfaction-causing dopamine. If people have genetic changes in the RASGRF-2 gene, then alcohol gives them a strong sense of satisfaction, increasing the likelihood that the person will drink.
Globally, about 2.5 million people die each year from excessive alcohol use, accounting for about 3.8% of all deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
For this study, the scientists first ran experiments on mice, removing the RASGRF2 gene from them to see how they would react to alcohol. They found that the absence of RASGRF-2 was associated with a significant reduction in alcohol seeking activity.
It was also found that when the mice drank alcohol, the absence of the RASGRF-2 gene decreased the activity of dopamine-producing neurons in a region of the brain called the ventral region – which keeps the brain from dopamine release and limits feelings of satisfaction.
Then the scientists conducted psychological testing on 663 14-year-old boys. It showed that people with the RASGRF-2 genetic variation release more of the dopamine hormone when they expect pleasure, and therefore have more satisfaction. To confirm the findings, the researchers analyzed alcohol use in the same group of boys two years later. They found that those with the RASGRF-2 gene modified drank more often.
This study provides the basis for further research in the field of treating people for alcohol dependence.