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Why certain teens are prone to binge drinking

Why some teens are prone to binge drinking Why some teens are prone to binge drinking

A new study reveals why some teens maybe more prone to binge drinking than others. The study was led by King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) and published in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) .

Scientists say dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. The study details that alcohol and other addictive drugs activate the dopamine system in the brain. It found that the RASGRF2 gene is a risk gene for alcohol abuse.

"We now understand the chain of action: how our genes shape this function in our brains and how that, in turn, leads to human behavior. We found that the RASGRF-2 gene plays a crucial role in controlling how alcohol stimulates the brain to release dopamine, and hence trigger the feeling of reward. So, if people have a genetic variation of the RASGRF-2 gene, alcohol gives them a stronger sense of reward, making them more likely to be heavy drinkers," said Professor Gunter Schumann, of King's London Institute of Psychiatry, (loP).

The research team then studied the brain scans of 663 14 year old boys - who at that age had not been exposed to significant amounts of alcohol. They found that individuals with genetic variations to the RASGRF2 gene had higher activation of the ventral striatum area of the brain (closely linked to the VTA and involved in dopamine release) when anticipating reward in a cognitive task. This suggests that individuals with a genetic variation on the RASGRF-2 gene release more dopamine when anticipating a reward, and hence derive more pleasure from the experience.

The researchers also took one more step; they studied drinking behavior from the same group of boys at 16 years old, when many had already begun drinking frequently. They found that individuals with the variation on the RASGRF-2 gene drank more frequently at the age of 16 than those with no variation on the gene.

Approximately 6 out of 10 young people aged 11-15 in England report drinking, a figure which has remained relatively stable over the past 20 years. However, binge drinking has become more common, with teenagers reportedly drinking an average of 6 units per week in 1994 and 13 units per week in 2007. In the U-K, around 5,000 teenagers are admitted to hospitals every year for alcohol-related reasons. Teenage alcohol abuse is also linked to poor brain development, health problems in later life, risk taking behavior (drunk driving, unsafe sex) and antisocial behavior.

 The researchers believe that knowing these risk factors for early alcohol abuse is important in designing prevention and treatment interventions for alcohol addiction.

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