Biological predisposition

Alcohol sensitivity

Compared to controls, a significantly larger percentage of men with family history of alcoholism present a lesser physiological response to alcohol; in terms of both subjective sensations and objective measurements (postconsumption plasma cortisol levels and body sway). A lower sensitivity is assumed to lead to heavier drinking and predicts the eventual development of alcoholism. The authors of this prospective follow-up study concluded that the 'innate' low response to alcohol is an independent risk factor, regardless of family history.(26)

Related research findings indicate that men with multigenerational family history of alcoholism tend to derive a greater anxiolytic effect from alcohol. Under experimental conditions, and after drinking an intoxicating dose, their cardiovascular response to acute stress is more attenuated than that of controls. (27) Such increased effects can be expected to reinforce heavy drinking.

Biochemical markers

On average, alcoholics have lower than normal levels of platelet serotonin and of its metabolite 5-hydroxyindole acetic acid in cerebrospinal fluid; especially the problem drinkers who exhibit impulsive and violent behaviour. This serotonin deficiency profile was also found to be abnormally prevalent in young adults with a family history of alcoholism.(28)

The monoamine oxidase enzyme is of interest to alcohol researchers because it participates in the breakdown of neurotransmitters which are involved in the brain action of alcohol. Abnormally low levels of monoamine oxidase platelet activity were found to be linked to a family history of alcoholism, as well as to an earlier age of onset and a higher severity of the disorder. (,29>

Both these biochemical deviations seem to be more significant among male than female subjects, and to be strongly associated with antisocial behaviour.


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