Why are some people more prone to drinking problems?

Experts say that when you are an alcoholic, cutting back is not an option - in the sense that some people are wired to be alcoholic.

Myupchar January 01, 2020 17:00:42 IST
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Why are some people more prone to drinking problems?

Most of us know somebody who has a drinking problem. Many of these people don’t seem to stop even after knowing the negative consequences of excessive alcohol consumption on their health as well as personal lives. 

This often makes us wonder: why? Why can’t some people cut down their alcohol intake? 

Why are some people more prone to drinking problems

Representational image. Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Well, experts say that when you are an alcoholic, cutting back is not an option - in the sense that some people are wired to be alcoholic. They can’t quit even if they try to. A binge drinker would turn back to the addiction if they have a single drink after being sober for a while. Interestingly, alcoholism may run in families too. 

Here are two of the less discussed causes of an alcohol use disorder, as found by research studies.

Brain wiring

Over time, researchers have found certain areas in the brain of alcoholics that function differently from other people. These include the lateral habenula - a tiny part located in the posterior end of the cerebrum (the biggest part of the brain), and amygdala - the emotion centre of the brain and a circuit link between the medial prefrontal cortex (a part of the brain right behind your eyes) and the periaqueductal grey matter (an area of grey matter in the midbrain).

The lateral habenula is the centre that if depressed, leads to depression. Also, this organ plays an important role in helping us learn from negative outcomes. Any depression or damage to the lateral habenula thus can make the person unable to learn from the harmful effects of alcohol on the body, leading to an alcohol use disorder.

In research done on mice, it was found that specific neurons in the amygdala lead to the withdrawal symptoms that occur in alcoholics. When these neurons were inactivated in the lab, all the test animals immediately stopped having withdrawal symptoms and directly went to their pre-dependant state. Normally, these neurons are responsible for controlling fear and anxiety behaviours.

In a recent study done at the Salk Institute, California, scientists have found a circuit in the brain that can tell you the chances that a person may become an addict after they’ve had a single drink. Working on animal models, they noted that a specific kind of signalling occurs between the medial prefrontal cortex and the periaqueductal grey matter of the brain in potential alcoholics while they are drinking. This signalling was not found in those not prone to alcoholism. 

Genetics

Apparently, you can be genetically predisposed to a drinking problem. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there is not one but several genes in a human body that can increase the chances of alcohol dependence. At the same time, some may reduce the risk of it as well. For example, Asian people can’t metabolise alcohol as well as Europeans, so, they have a natural immunity to alcoholism. Dr Francesca Ducci from the Laboratory of Neurogenetics mentioned genetic tolerance to alcohol as one of the major risks for alcohol use disorder in her 2008 article titled Genetic approaches to addiction: genes and alcohol. The article was published in Addiction, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Society of Addiction, England.  

These studies don’t mean that we can put all of the blame on one’s genetic makeup though. It’s an interplay between environmental and genetic factors that determines the risk of alcohol use disorder.  

For more information, please read our article on Alcohol: Benefits and Side Effects.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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