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A new study conducted at McGill University reports people who are at risk of experiencing alcohol abuse exhibit a distinctive brain response when drinking alcohol.

Alcohol abuse can cause serious health issues up to and including death for drinkers and innocent bystanders. In fact, about 11,000 people are killed each year by alcohol-impaired drivers – nearly one third of all traffic related deaths in the United States, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This study was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and may allow scientists and medical practitioners develop new methods for treating this problem.

Professor Marco Leyton, of McGill University’s Department of Psychiatry said, “There is accumulating evidence that there are multiple pathways to alcoholism, each associated with a distinct set of personality traits and neurobiological features. These individual differences likely influence a wide range of behaviors, both positive and problematic. Our study suggests that a tendency to experience a large dopamine response when drinking alcohol might contribute to one (or more) of these pathways.”

“We found that people vulnerable to developing alcoholism experienced an unusually large brain dopamine response when they took a drink,” said Leyton. “This large response might energize reward-seeking behaviors and counteract the sedative effects of alcohol. Conversely, people who experience minimal dopamine release when they drink might find the sedative effects of alcohol especially pronounced.”

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