A recent study by McGill University in the US is providing more evidence for the idea that some people may be hardwired to become alcoholic. It could mean that these individuals have a brain that functions in such a way that puts them at more risk of addiction. This is not really a new claim, but this new research will back up previous studies that suggest that this is indeed the case.
The research conducted by Professor Marco Leyton at McGill University found that people who are addicted to alcohol tend to exhibit a specific brain response. In these individuals, there was a greater dopamine response in the brain, meaning that they experienced greater desire for rewards. The brain learns to associate drinking alcohol with reward, so these individuals will develop a high need to repeat the behaviour. Most people do not have such a high dopamine response in the brain, which means that they do not have the same strong desire to use alcohol.
The study conducted at McGill University was made up of a sample of 26 people, so it is relatively small. Combined with the other studies examining this same theory, it does make a reasonably compelling argument. Of course, just because the brain shows a greater dopamine response does not really prove anything. We still do not know for sure if it is the changes in the brain that are triggering alcoholism or if it is the alcoholism triggering the changes in the brain.
The researchers at McGill University point out that they are not suggesting in their research that increased dopamine pathways explains all types of addictive behaviour. There are multiple reasons why people will develop alcohol problems, and it may be better to think of things like strong dopamine pathways as risk factors. Plenty of other factors will increase people’s risk of alcoholism including drinking at a young age, bad parenting, peer pressure, emotional trauma, physical trauma, and sexual abuse. There is also a large population of alcoholics who turn to this behaviour because they are dealing with some type of mental illness. Growing up in a culture where heavy drinking is promoted is also going to be a major risk factor.
Understanding the causes of addiction is very important work. These scientific studies are helping us to develop treatments. It is also hoped that in the not-to-distant future we will have the knowledge that will allow us to prevent people developing alcoholism in the first place. We are still a long way from reaching this point, but it is good to know that we are steadily moving in the right direction. It now seems almost certain that brain chemistry plays a hugely important role in the development of alcoholism, so we need much more research in this area.
This latest news about the possible causes of addiction may be of little value to those of us struggling with addiction right now. Our best hope it to find the current treatments available that will allow us to break away from this behaviour. This would include things like going to rehab or choosing one of the other treatment options. These methods have a proven record of success, and they offer us the best chance of breaking away from this self-destructive behaviour. Hopefully there will come a day when we can take a pill that will cure us of addiction, but in the meantime, we need to make use of what is there.