Study: Why Some People Are More Prone to Alcoholism

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Study: Why Some People Are More Prone to Alcoholism

Only 15 percent or so of people who regularly drink alcohol develop an addiction – but why them and not the other 85 percent? A new landmark rat study published in Science sheds some light.

Researchers trained 32 rats to consume a 20% alcohol solution for 10 weeks until it became habit. Next, they were given a daily choice of more alcohol or a solution of the artificial sweetener saccharine.

While the majority of the rats went for the sugar, four rats consistently chose alcohol. Researchers conducted more tests with more rats and “600 animals later, we found that a very stable population chose alcohol,” senior study author Markus Heilig, director of the Center for Social and Affective Neuroscience at Linkoping in Sweden, said in a statement. Consistently, 15 percent of them choose alcohol over sugar — the same percentage as humans who progress to alcoholism.

There were other signs of human addiction, too. For example, the rats kept drinking even when their booze supply was spiked with a bitter chemical or paired with an electric shock. “That was striking to me, as a clinician,” said Heilig. “Embedded in the criteria for diagnosing alcoholism is that people continue to take drugs despite good knowledge of the fact that it will harm or kill them.”

What’s more, researchers discovered that the rats that chose alcohol had lower levels of the gene called GAT-3, which is linked to a protein that controls the levels of GABA, a major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and one linked with dependency on alcohol, notes The Atlantic. This is a major step toward understanding and even treating alcohol use disorder, said researchers.

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