A gene may be responsible for some teens abusing alcohol.
Some teens tend to abuse alcohol as a result of a genetic predisposition. These young people have a version of a gene that causes alcohol to provoke strong feelings of pleasure and reward.
A study, led by the King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), shows why some adolescents are more predisposed than others to drink large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time.
Alcohol abuse in adolescents, in addition to causing problems such as increased antisocial behavior and associated risks, such as drunk driving and unprotected sex, has also been linked to poor brain development and long-term health problems.
Addictive substances such as alcohol stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain, which produces feelings of pleasure and reward.
This new research shows that the RASGRF-2 gene plays a crucial role in controlling how alcohol stimulates the brain with the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and therefore how to elicit the feeling of reward.
In people who have a certain genetic variant of the RASGRF-2 gene, alcohol causes them a stronger sense of reward, making them more likely to abuse alcohol.
The authors found that mice without the RASGRF-2 gene did not seek out alcohol, and when they consumed it, the lack of the gene prevented the release of dopamine in a region of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which is associated with the sensation of reward.
Through brain scans, the brain activity of 663 14-year-olds who consumed a lot of alcohol, without becoming alcoholic, was also analyzed.
They found that those with a certain variant of the RASGRF-2 gene had more activity in the ventral striatum, an area of the brain that anticipates reward. This part of the brain is closely related to the ventral tegmental area and participates in the release of dopamine.