Predicting problem drinking

For many people, having a drink after a stressful day at work is a pretty normal reaction. However, for some people, this reaction to stress may lead to a drink problem. In new research published in Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders the relationship between stress and threat and reward neurocircuity suggests that neurobiology may play a significant factor in developing a drink problem.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons Justinc

The study uses fMRI data from 200 college student participants of the Duke Neurogenetics Study to investigate differences in the functioning of reward and thread circuits in the brain in relation to stress induced drinking. The authors find that problem drinking related to stress only emerges in students who have highly reactive reward circuitry (i.e. ventral striatum) and a hypo-reactive threat circuitry (i.e. amygdale).

Yuliya Nikolova, who is the lead author of the study, thinks these findings may be useful for identifying individuals at particularly high risk for developing alcohol use disorders in the wake of stress, commenting “Future research identifying factors, such as genetic polymorphisms, that may predict variability in neural responsiveness to threat and reward could lead to the development of biomarkers for drug abuse risk and interventions targeting those phenotypes.” Ahmad Hariri, senior author of the study adds: “We’re very excited about these findings as they nicely bring together our parallel programs of research on individual differences in threat and reward processes, and represent an extension of such individual differences into a real-world phenomenon.”

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