University study suggests new genetic risks for alcoholism in women

Haley Mullen, Assistant News Editor

A University study conducted by professor of psychology Judith Grisel has found that due to the biology of the brain, women may be more likely to consume alcohol while under stress than men. This finding, which was published in the journal Addiction Biology, also notes that due to this difference, women may be more likely to become alcohol-dependent than men.

Research for this study was conducted by Grisel and co-authored by University master’s graduates Todd Nentwig M’17 and Diane Wilson M’14, as well as professor of biology Erin Rhinehart of Susquehanna University. Funding for the study was provided by the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse.

The study used mice bred to produce different amounts of the chemical, beta-endorphin. A chemical used by the brain to manage stress, beta-endorphin is also found in varying amounts in humans. Grisel and her collaborators found that male mice with lower levels of beta-endorphin were less likely than female mice with lower levels of beta-endorphins to binge drink.

Additionally, not only did females more often choose alcohol over water when both were available, but chose to continue to consume alcohol at a higher rate than their male counterparts.

“We believe the reason is that the low-endorphin females are naturally more stressed, and binge drinking fixes their hyper-stressed state,” Grisel said.

Therefore, in humans, this link may prove useful in evaluating genetic risk factors for alcoholism in women.

“Scientists, including those in the pharmaceutical industry, are beginning to appreciate that all brains are not the same,” Grisel said. “We’ve got a lot of studies now, by me and lots of other people, showing that the neurobiology and neurogenetics of males and females are often different in important ways. We hope that paying more attention to factors like sex will help us to better understand complex disorders, and eventually, alleviate human suffering.”

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