Dopamine And Teenage Alcohol And Drug Use

by admin on October 21, 2022

Although previously suggested by various studies, the idea that some individuals are more susceptible to becoming addicted to alcohol and other drugs has never been backed up by scientific evidence. But a new study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory published in Alcolholism: Clinical Experimental Research is the first to be able to provide experimental evidence to directly support this idea.

Dopamine And Addiction

Lead author of the study, Panayotis (Peter) Thanos, said: “This study shows that the effects of chronic alcohol consumption on brain chemistry are critically influenced by an individual’s pre-existing genetic makeup,”.

The study came to its conclusions by studying two genetic variants of mice; one genetically normal, and the other lacking a brain receptor called dopamine D2 that responds to dopamine – the brain’s “feel good” chemical – to produce feelings of pleasure and reward.

They found that the dopamine-receptor-deficient mice experienced significant biochemical changes in areas of the brain, similar to those associated with alcoholism and drug addiction.

“Our findings may help explain how someone’s genetic profile can interact with the environment — in this case, chronic alcohol drinking — to produce these changes only in some individuals, but not in others with a less vulnerable genetic profile. The work supports the idea that genetic screening could provide individuals with valuable information relevant to understanding risks when deciding whether or not to consume alcohol.” Thanos said.

Dopamine and Teenage Risk Taking

In addition, a relationship between dopamine and risk-taking tendencies among teens, including those relating to using alcohol and drugs, has also been established by a study at the University of California, in which researchers concluded that that teenagers’ risk taking is largely driven by a “hypersensitivity” to the release of dopamine in the brain.

The study performed reward-incentive tasks on three groups; one of children 8-12 years old, one of teenagers14-19 years old, and one of adults 25-30 years old, while they were in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner (fMRI). Researchers found that the striatal area of the brain, which is sensitive to dopamine, lit up more strongly among the teens than the other age groups.

“Our research shows that when adolescents get a reward that they’re not expecting, their brains are more responsive to that reward,” said Jessica Cohen, lead researcher of the study.

Dopamine and Teen Susceptibility To Alcohol And Drug Addiction

Combined the two studies have shed a light on the role that dopamine plays when it comes to determining the risk of substance abuse among teenagers; one in finding that individuals lacking the dopamine receptor dopamine D2 are more vulnerable to alcoholism, and the other in establishing that teenagers are more likely to take risks, such as using alcohol, than other age groups because of their dopamine hypersensitivity.


OE/Brookhaven National Laboratory (2010, October 19). First direct evidence that response to alcohol depends on genes: Dopamine receptor deficiency leads to significant brain changes in response to drinking. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2010, from

Why teens take risks (2010, May 17) The Straits Time, Retrieved October 21, 2022 from

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