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Lynda H Appell

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Serotonin and Alcoholism
By Lynda H Appell   

Last edited: Monday, December 24, 2001
Posted: Monday, December 24, 2001

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Serotonin levels may be Indicative of future alcoholism in an individual.



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Health and Fitness > Addiction and Recovery > Alcoholism


Brain neurotransmitter Serotonin suspected in playing an active role in Alcoholism
by Lynda Appell


Serontonin in both animal and human studies have been associated with alcoholism and agressive behavior and depression.

Many studies now suggest alcoholism may be associated with dysfunction in neurotransmitting of serotonin. This in accordance to article published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

In studies reviewed that investigated the aspect of serotonin in drinking, depression , anxiety, researcher Andreas Heinz, M.D., and colleagues from Germany's Central Institute of Mental Health, concluded serotonin could be associated with high
levels of tolerance for alcohol, combined with antisocial personality characteristics could
predispose to impulsiveness and risky behavior.

According to the medical researchers, studies on animals have linked low serotonin turnover
rates with early social stress, aggressive behavior and impulsiveness. A study of adult rhesus
macaque monkeys who were separated from their mothers and peer-raised (i.e.,
they experienced social separation) found that these monkeys had both lower
serotonin turnover rates and a predisposition to excessive alcohol intake.

Serotonin concentration was reduced even further when these monkeys were
completely separated from their peers. The researchers found that these monkeys
displayed increased anxiety and were more likely to be aggressive adults. They
displayed a behavior pattern consistent with that found in "type 2 alcoholics" as
defined by Cloninger. These alcoholics demonstrate early disease onset, impulsivity
and antisocial personality traits and have been found to have low serotonin turnover.

Other studies have shown serotonin turnover rate is influenced both by
heredity and environment. The writers report the genetics of serotonin
turnover is 42 percent in nonhuman primates and 35 percent in humans.
Environmental factors may have a long-lasting impact on the serotonin system in
humans as well as in monkeys. For example, unstable pre-adoption placement, a
form of early social separation stress, has been found to be associated with
excessive alcohol consumption in adulthood. This seems very simular to the experiences of the Rhesus Monkeys in the animal study.

Serotonin dysfunction also has been linked with negative mood states -- mostly
anxiety and low moods -- and some researchers suggest these conditions
could very likely eventually lead to problems with alcohol. A study of male alcoholics who abstained from
alcohol for more than a month, were discovered to have significant reduction serotonin transporters
in the brainstem, and was coorelated to the amount of lifetime alcohol
withdrawal. A similar finding was shown among psychiatric patients with major
depression.

"Other research suggests the serotonin system supports "regenerative" behaviors
such as eating, relaxation, growth, sleep, passivity and inactivity by creating a
"protective filter effect" that promotes feelings of security and tranquility". People
with a serotonin deficiency very well could suffer feelings of insecurity and perceptions of being threatened that very well could lead to
increased aggressive behavior.

Low serotonin levels also are discovered among late-onset alcoholics. Researchers
suggest that in some alcoholics, excess drinking could lead to damaging the serotonergic
system and therefore be itself a cause, or at least a factor in alcohol dependence. Scientists have found
that increased availability of serotonin transporters and a low serotonin turnover rate
can be associated with a stronger susceptibility to the negative effects of alcohol, such as
ataxia or sedation. The result very well could be heavy alcohol intake
thus leading to the development of alcoholism.

Many scientists studying alcoholism believe it is both a genetic and environmental disorder. That is the genetics are there, but they may not manifest unless the enviromental factors are there as well.

Serotonergic dysfunction is associated with negative mood
states and impulsive aggression, and could lead to some of the behavioral aspects
shown in early-onset alcoholics. Chronic alcoholism may induce depression
and anxiety that interact with the long-term risk of relapse. In some genetically
predisposed persons, serotonin dysfunction has been seen to be associated with
a low response to alcohol. Further studies are needed in order to clarify the role of
serotonin in the development and maintenance of alcoholism.

Web Site: Serontonin and Alcoholism


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Reviewed by Laurie Anthony 2/28/2004
Taking medication for my anxiety/depression for many years ... it doesn't surprise me that having low serotonin levels, I'm also struggling with alcohol now. When I drink, my medication doesn't work as well, and I am prone to drink more to ease my anxiety! Thanks for your informative article.
Reviewed by Chris 7/17/2002
Very interesting. I see much truth in this article from personal experience and from observation of others who are alcoholic. I have noticed with gay people who are oppressed for longs periods of time from society, religious group or affiliations, family environments and the like seem to suffer from low-grade depression. From my observation it appears that nicotine usuage and alcohol usuage is very high as well. I know for myself that I have a predeposition to alcoholism or drug addiction and for depression just because of my own sexual orienation. And I have seen all too often with others. Thank you for your research.

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