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Study: Relationship between two brain areas could predict problem drinking

July 2, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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New research has confirmed prior findings about two regions of the brain that appear to play a role in young adults' potential for problem drinking in response to stressful situations.

New findings from the ongoing Duke Neurogenetics Study indicate that opposite levels of activity in the ventral striatum (a reward-seeking region) and the amygdala (a threat-assessing area) can predict stress-related problem drinking in young adults. As Duke University professor of psychology and neuroscience Ahmad Hariri puts it, “If you have high activity in both areas, no problem. If you have low activity in both areas, no problem. It's when they're out of whack that individuals may have problems with drinking.”

The most recent research, involving 759 undergraduate students with an average age of 19, used a larger sample than was the case in a 2012 analysis that found a high risk of problem drinking in individuals with an overactive ventral striatum and an underactive amygdala. The latest findings were published this week in Molecular Psychiatry.

Researchers also found that an examination of activity in these same two brain areas can help predict risk for engaging in potentially harmful sexual behavior.

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